lmv licence: Reassess policy allowing LMV licence holders to drive commercial transport vehicles, SC tells Centre

The Supreme Court on Wednesday asked the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways to take a fresh look at its policy of allowing holders of a light motor vehicle (LMV) licence to operate commercial transport vehicles such as taxis.

The case in question is an appeal filed by insurance companies against a division bench order of the apex court in 2017, which ruled that holders of LMV licences should be allowed to operate transport, or commercial vehicles, as long as the vehicles did not exceed 7,500 kg in unladen weight.

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The bench hearing the appeal referred the matter to a five-judge constitution bench, which is currently hearing the matter. The next hearing has been set for November 22.

Insurance companies have argued that allowing LMV licence holders to operate transport vehicles raises safety concerns. The motor vehicles law provides for a transport, or commercial, endorsement that such licence holders can take to drive commercial vehicles. However, industry executives have said that getting a transport licence is a “cumbersome task” for a driver because of various complexities such as having to renew it every five years.

The constitution bench of Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justices Hrishikesh Roy, PS Narasimha, Pankaj Mithal and Manoj Misra said during the latest hearing that any decision in this matter “must await policy considerations”. It added that the constitution bench will take the matter up once the central government has conveyed its stand to the court, asking the government to conclude the review process within two months.

During Wednesday’s hearing, the bench also underscored the issue of livelihoods of commercial drivers being impacted. It specifically pointed out that the matter of road safety had to be balanced with the social purpose of the law. “You have to see if this causes hardships. We cannot decide social policy issues in a constitution bench…it has to be done at a policy level,” Chief Justice Chandrachud said.

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On August 22, ET had reported that the Supreme Court case has multiple stakeholders, including drivers, fleet operators and cab aggregators worried, as a reversal of the 2017 ruling could hurt them. The Tamil Nadu Urimai Kural Driver Trader Union, a group representing 2,250 drivers in the southern state, had filed a petition on July 16 to join the case, arguing that any decision that asks drivers to apply for and get a commercial endorsement from the regional transport offices would “render such cab drivers unworkable and inoperative”.

Fleet operators had said earlier that if drivers are asked to get transport endorsements on their licences, it could create a short-term supply issue for cab aggregator platforms such as SoftBank-backed Ola and its rival Uber. They have therefore urged the court to have a moratorium of 1-2 years should it rule that the drivers need an additional commercial endorsement.

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