1. Because a common question of law arises for consideration in the above writ petitions, they are heard together and disposed of by this, common order.
2. The petitioners in the above petitions were applicants for the grant of permits to ply stage carriages under Section 46 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939 (hereinafter referred to as the Act). The State Transport Appellate Tribunal (hereinafter referred to as the Tribunal) which disposed of the appeals in which the applications made by the petitioners came up for consideration, held that such of the petitioners in the above petitions in whose history sheets there were more than six entries relating to offences committed within 24 months preceding the date on which the application for the grant permit came up for consideration before the Regional Transport Authority were disqualified under Rule 104-A (1) (iii) (b) of the Karnataka Motor Vehicles Rules, 1963, and in the case of other petitioners it directed an enquiry by the Regional Transport Authority into the question whether they were disqualified under the aforementioned rule or not before disposing of their applications for the permit.
Aggrieved by the orders passed by the Tribunal, the petitioners have filed these petitions. The common question which arises for consideration in these petitions is the validity of Rule 104-A (1) (iii) (b) by which the Regional Transport Authority and the State Transport Appellate Tribunal are precluded from considering the applications of persons in whose history sheets there are six entries relating to offences committed within 24 months preceding the date on which their applications are considered by the Regional Transport Authority. The relevant Rule reads as follows:-
104-A (1) (i) x
(ii) x x x x x x x
(iii) The Transport Authorities shall in deciding whether to grant or refuse to grant a stage carriage permit have regard to the following matters in addition to those specified in sub-section (1) of S. 47.
The applicants shall first be screened and those who are found to be unsuitable on one or more of the following grounds shall be disqualified, reasons being given for the decision of the Transport Authority whenever an applicant is disqualified:-
(a) x x x x(b) If the history sheet is not clean and contains mare than six entries relating to offences, committed within twenty four months preceding the date of grant of the permit.'
3. A plain reading of the Rule extracted above suggests that the Regional Transport Authority and the State Transport Appellate Tribunal cannot consider an application made by a person for the grant of a stage carriage permit if his history sheet is not clean, and contains more than six entries relating to offences committed within 24 months preceding the date of grant of the permit. It does not give any discretion to the authorities concerned to, consider the nature and gravity of the offences committed by the applicant, the number of stage carriages owned by the applicant and the length of the routes and the area in which the services owned by the applicant are operated.
4. The contention urged on behalf of the petitioners in these petitions is that the above Rule, which is inconsistent with the express provisions of the Act in Sections 47 and 48, is liable to be struck down. Section 47 of the Act provides:
'A Regional Transport Authority shall. in considering an application for a stage carriage permit, have regard to the following matters, namely:-
(a) the interests of the public generally;
(b) the advantages to the public of the service to be provided, including the saving of time likely to be effected thereby and any convenience arising from journeys not being broken;
(c) the adequacy of other passenger transport services operating or likely to operate in the near future, whether by road or other means, between the places to be served.
the benefit to any particular locality or localities likely to be afforded by the service;
(e) the operation by the applicant of other transport services, including those in respect of which applications from him for permits are pending;
(f) The condition of the roads included in
the proposed route or area.'
5. The Regional Transport Authority has also to take into consideration the representations made by the other persons referred to in Section 47. Section 48 of the Act provides that the Regional Transport Authority may subject to provisions of Section 47 of the Act, grant a stage carriage permit in accordance with the application subject to any one or more of the conditions reefed to in sub-section (3) of S. 48. Section 44 of the Act empowers the State Government to constitute Regional Transport Authorities in respect of the several regions within the State and a State Transport Authority for the whole state. Sub-section (2) of Section 44 provides that a State Transport Authority or a Regional Transport Authority shall consist of a Chairman who has had judicial experience.
It is now well settled that the power exercised by the State Transport Authority or the Regional Transport Authority while granting a stage carriage permit under Chapter IV of the Act is quasi-judicial in nature and it has got to be exercised objectively on the basis of the relevant material placed before it. (See para 12 in B. Rajagopala Naidu v. State Transport Appellate Tribunal, : 7SCR1 ). Section 68 of the Act under which the impugned Rule is framed authorises the State Government to make rules for the purpose of carrying into effect the provisions of Chapter IV of the Act. It may be that the State Government while making rules under Section 68 may provide that the authorities functioning under Chapter IV of the Act shall take certain relevant matters into consideration while considering the question whether a permit should be granted in favour of an applicant or not leaving the ultimate decision to them. But it cannot make a rule which has a compulsive force. The State Government cannot therefore by a rule declare that an application made by an applicant for a stage carriage permit should be rejected by the authorities concerned on proof of any of the matters prescribed by the rules, because, thereby the State Government would be assuming the jurisdiction vested in the Transport Authorities.
6. In B. Rajagopala Naidu v. State Transport Appellate Tribunal, Madras, (AIR 1964 SC 1573) while construing a Government Order issued under Section 43-A (as in force in Tamil Nadu which authorised the State Government to issue orders and directions of a general character as it might consider it necessary in respect of any matters relating to State Transport Authority or Regional Transport Authority, the Supreme Court observed as follows :
'And lastly, the provision that the relevant transport authority shall give effect to all orders and directions issued under Sections 43-A would be clearly inappropriate if the instructions issued under the said section are meant for the guidance of quasi-judicial bodies. If the direction is issued by the appropriate Government in exercise of its powers under Section 43-A and it is intended for the guidance of a tribunal discharging its quasi-judicial functions, it is hardly necessary to say that the authority shall give effect to such directions. Section 43-A being valid, if the orders and directions of a general character having the force of law can be issued within the scope of the said section, then such orders or directions would by them selves be binding on the transport authorities for whose guidance they are made; and it would be superfluous to make a specific provision that they are so binding. On the other hand, if the orders and directions are in the nature of administrative orders and directions, they do not have the force of statutory rules and cannot partake of the character of provisions of law, and so, it may not be inappropriate to provide that the said orders and directions shall be followed by the appropriate tribunals. Therefore, it seems to us that on a fair and reasonable construction of Section 43-A, it ought 10 be held that the said section authorize the State Government to issue orders and directions of a general character only in respect of administrative matters which fall to be dealt with by the State Transport authority or Regional Transport Authority under the relevant of the Act in their administrative capacity.
In reaching this conclusion, we have been influenced by certain other considerations which are both relevant and material. In interpreting Section 43-A, we think, it would be legitimate to assume that the legislature intended to respect the basic and elementary postulate of the rule of law, that in exercising their authority and in discharging their quasi judicial function, the Tribunals constituted under the Act must be left absolutely free to deal with the matter according to their best judgment. It is of the essence of fair and objective administration of law that the decision of the Judge or the Tribunal must be absolutely unfettered by an extraneous guidance by the executive or administrative wing of the State. if the exercise of discretion conferred on a judicial tribunal is controlled by any such direction, that forges fetters on the exercise of quasi-judicial authority and the presence of such fetters would make the exercise of such authority completely inconsistent with the well-accepted notion of judicial process. it is true that law can regulate the exercise of judicial powers. It may indicate by specific provisions on that matter the Tribunals constituted by it should adjudicate. It may by specific provisions lay down the principles which have to be followed by the Tribunals in dealing with the said matters. The scope of the jurisdiction of the Tribunals constituted by statute can well be regulated by the statute and principles for guidance of the said tribunals may also be prescribed subject of course to the inevitable requirement that these provisions do not contravene the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution.
7. On the basis of the above observation, the Supreme Court held that the decision of the Appellate Tribunal which was based solely on the provisions of an order issued under Section 43-A which was treated by it as a binding rule was invalid and the decision required to be corrected by the issue of a writ of certiorari. From the above decision of the Supreme Court it is obvious that no fetter can be imposed on the discretion to be exercised by the authorities under Chapter IV while granting permits by a rule made under Section 68. The impugned Rule lays down that the applications made by a person in whose history sheets there are more than six entries relating to offences committed within 24 months preceding the date on which the application is considered should be rejected on the ground that the applicant is disqualified for grant of permit. I am therefore of the view that the Rule is in excess of the power conferred on the State Government under Section 68 of the Act.
8. The learned Government Pleader, however, relied upon the decision of the High Court of Madras in the Erode Co-operative Motor Transport Society Ltd. v. State Transport Appellate Tribunal, Madras, : AIR1972Mad93 and two decisions of the Andhra Pradesh High Court in Nagabhushanam v. Ankam Ankaiah, : AIR1968AP74 and in J. C. Nagireddy v. Nagamma, : AIR1968AP298 in support of the Rule. In the Madras (case) it was held that R. 155-A of the Madras Motor Vehicles Rules which was impugned in that case did not operate as a fetter on the quasi-judicial power of the authorities. It was further held that it merely laid down certain guidelines in the matter of selection of permit holders and that it did not prevent the Regional Transport Authority or the Tribunal in taking its own view in the light of the particular facts of a given case. Hence, no assistance can be derived from the said decision.
In Nagabhushanam's case, the question of the validity of the rule did not arise in the form in which it is urged before me. That decision lays down that the entries made in the history sheet of an applicant for stage carriage permit should be taken into consideration while granting the permits. The question whether the Rule was in excess of the rule making power of the State Government was not gone into. Similarly, in J. C. Nagireddy's case the High Court of Andhra Pradesh observed that the suitability of a particular applicant for the grant of a Permit cannot be properly and adequately assessed by looking at his record in any particular area or district and ignoring his record in other districts. In this case also the validity of the rule did not arise for consideration. Hence, no assistance can be derived by the Government Pleader from the above two decisions of the Andhra Pradesh High Court.
9. The impugned Rule has therefore to be struck down on the ground that it conflicts with Sections 47 and 48 of the Act. It is accordingly declared as invalid.
10. Although the impugned Rule has been declared as invalid. the Regional Transport Authority and the Tribunal cannot ignore the history sheet of an applicant for the grant of permit. It constitutes relevant material for the purpose of deciding whether the grant of permit would be in the interest of the public generally as provided in Section 47 (1) (a). The authorities have got to assess the suitability of an applicant for the grant of stage carriage permit on the basis of his performance. during the period prior to the date of the grant. His past record or history sheet as a whole should be taken into consideration to determine whether the granting of a permit in his favour would be in the interest of the public generally. While assessing the suitability of an applicant the authorities concerned should take into consideration the number of, offences committed by him, the gravity of offences, the period during which they are committed, the number of stage carriages he is operating and the extent of the area in which he has been running stage carriages to determine whether he is a fit and suitable person for the grant of a permit unfettered by the Rule which has been struck down.
It may be that in a certain case the number of offences committed by the applicant may be few. But, having regard to the magnitude of the offences committed, he may be an undesirable person for granting a permit. In another case the number of offences said to have been committed by the applicant may be many, but in view of the trivial nature of the offences he may be considered as not disqualified for the grant of the permit. In the third case the applicant may be a fleet owner and the number of offences committed by him may be more than the number of offences committed by a rival applicant who may be having only one stage carriage service. But still the authorities may prefer the former applicant having regard to all the attendant circumstances. It is for the authorities to consider in each case whether the applicant having regard to his background is a fit person to be granted a permit or not.
11. With these observations, these writ petitions are allowed. The orders passed by the Tribunal in all these cases are set aside and the cases are remanded to the Tribunal for fresh disposal in accordance with law.
12. If any of the parties wishes to urge any additional grounds, it is open to him to urge such grounds before the Tribunal within one month from today. The Tribunal shall take into consideration those additional grounds also while disposing of the appeals before it.
13. In W. Ps. Nos. 6414 to 6417 of 1974 the learned counsel for respondent 3 submits that he would not raise any objections regarding the maintainability of the Appeals out of which these petitions arise on the ground that the petitioners had not filed their representations within the period prescribed by the notification published in Section 57 (3) of the Act In view of the above submission, the Tribunal shall proceed to dispose of the said appeals without going into the question of maintainability of the said appeals.
14. The learned counsel for the petitioners in W. Ps. 6414 to 6417 of 1974 submits that he would not raise any objection before the Tribunal regarding the verify of the notification issued under S. 57 (3) of the Act in the appeals out of which these petitions arise. The Tribunal shall not therefore take that objection into consideration while disposing of the said appeals.
15. In some of the above petitions, it was contended by the learned Counsel that the cases should be remanded to the Regional Transport Authority and not to the Tribunal This contention may be urged by them before the Tribunal. If the Tribunal after hearing the parties is of opinion that any of the cases has to be remanded to the Regional Transport Authority concerned, it may do so. These petitions are accordingly disposed of. No costs.
16. Petitions allowed.