Karnataka High Court: In a significant decision, while deliberating over the instant petition concerning a notification issued by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways (‘MORTH’), whereby which it had introduced a new registration mark for new vehicles called Bharath Series (BH-Series), available to defence personnel, employees of Central/State Government, Public Sector Undertakings and private sector companies; the Bench of C.M. Pooncha, J., stated that the Karnataka government’s apprehension that the private sector employees are working on contract basis and are frequently changing from one company to another, is not a ground not to adhere to the Notification dated 26-08-2021 in its entirety. The Court thus held that State Government’s Notification dated 20-12-2021, specifically excluding one class of persons i.e., “employees of private sector organisations, which have their offices in four or more States/Union territories”, cannot be upheld having regard to the specific mandate of law.
The Bharath Series (BH-Series) of vehicle registration was introduced by MORTH via Notification dated 26-08-2021. As per the Notification, the new series will not require an assignment of a new registration mark when the owner of the vehicle shifts from one State to another. Furthermore, the vehicle registration facility under BH-Series will be available on voluntary basis to defence personnel, employees of Central Government/State Government, Central/State Government Public Sector Undertakings, private sector companies/organizations which are having their offices in 4 or more States/Union Territories.
In pursuance of the afore-stated notification, the State of Karnataka issued a Notification dated 30-11-2021 permitting the authorities to register non – transport vehicles under BH-Series. Foreseeing a possible reduction in collection of State revenue, the State Government issued a new communication/letter dated 20-12-2021, to register the new non-transport vehicles of persons excluding the private sector employees under BH-Series registration in the first phase.
The petitioners are employees of Fortinet Technologies and Accenture, both the companies having branches all over India. The petitioners recently purchased new cars. However, when they sought for registration of their vehicles as per the BH-Series, they were informed by the dealer that the online portal is not accepting BH-Series registration for private individuals.
The respondents contended that since most of the private sector employees are working on contract basis, and are frequently changing companies, hence, there would be no provision to check the authenticity of documents issued by the Private Companies and thus, the same would be a draw back to the State Government for collecting taxes.
Per contra, the petitioners contended that as per Section 64(b) and (c) of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, it is the Central Government which is vested with the power to make Rules with respect to registration of vehicles. it was contended that the Petitioners having submitted all relevant documents as contemplated under the Notification dated 26-08-2021 issued by the Government of India and having demonstrated that their employers have branches in four States, the reliefs sought in the Writ Petition are liable to be granted.
It was further submitted that Art. 256 of the Constitution clearly stipulates the obligation of the States and the Union visa-a-vis the laws made by the Parliament and the executive power of the Union to give any such directions to a State for the compliance of such laws.
Perusing the facts and contentions of the instant case, the Court observed that Notification dated 26.8.2021 were issued in exercise of power under Section 64(a), (d) and (p) of the MV Act, 1988, whereby various amendments were made in the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989, enabling registration of the vehicles under BH-Series.
It was further pointed out that Section 65 of the MV Act specifies that, the State Government is entitled to make rules for the purpose of carrying into effect various aspects except matters specified in Section 64 of the MV Act. The power enumerated under Section 65 of the MV Act does not entitle the State to make any Rules/stipulation regarding registration of vehicles. Thus, the Transport Authorities of the State cannot in any manner restrict the compliance in entirety of the Central Motor vehicles (Twentieth Amendment) Rules, 2021 which has been issued vide notification dated 26-08-2021.
The Court also pointed out the benefits of registration under the BH- Series, as it will avoid the cumbersome process of citizens bringing No Objection Certificate from one State and apply for new registration mark in the other State and apply for refund of taxes from the previous State of transfer to another.
Noting the apprehensions highlighted by the respondents, the Court stated that it is open to the officers of the State Government to scrupulously scrutinize the documents, so that, the private sector employees who opt to register their vehicles under BH-Series registration satisfy the criteria as stipulated in the Notification dated 26-08-2021.
Allowing the petition, the Court held that the attempt of the State Government to deviate from the Notification dated 26-08-2021, cannot be sustained.
[Ranjith K.P. v. Principal Secretary to Government Transport Department, 2022 SCC OnLine Kar 1599, decided on 16-12-2022]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Petitioners- Pradeep Kumar J. Adv.;
Respondents- Jyothi Bhat, HCGP for R1 TO R3; Gururaj Yadravi, Advocate for R5 and H. Shanthi Bhushan, ASG for R4.
*Sucheta Sarkar, Editorial Assistant has prepared this brief.