1. State Transport Appellate Tribunal is to exercise its quasi-judicial functions, falls for consideration in this case.
2. The brief facts are like this: -
The petitioner is plying a state carriage bus on an inter-state route from Nivagam to parlakimidi. As the route was not very profitable, and as the petitioner was having spare time for his vehicle from 10-30 a.m. to 12 noon at Hirmandalam, the petitioner made an application for variation of the conditions of his permit, granting an additional trip from Hiramandalam to Kothur during the aforesaid idle spare time. The petitioner also stated that there was no change in the existing timings of his vehicle in its trips on the other sectors of the route. The Andhra Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation stated that it had no objection. The third respondent and other objectors, however, raised objections to the notification, as according to them, the additional trip is shown as Parlakimidi to Hiramandalam instead of Hirmandalam to Kothur. The second respondent, namely, the Secretary, State Transport Authority, Andhra Pradesh, Hyd. Found that there was an occupational ratio of 96.5% for granting an extra single trip from Hiramandalam to Kothur. He also held that the timings notified under S.57 (3) as per the petitioner's application was referable to Hiramandalam to Kothur and not Parlakimidi to Hiramandalam. The second respondent granted the variation of the conditions of the petitioner's permit.
3. The third respondent one A. Mohan Rao, then filed a revision before the State Transport Appellate Tribunal, A.P. and raised a contention that the application was defective etc. However, during the course of arguments, the counsel for the third respondent raised a question that the order of the State Transport Authority was liable to be set aside inasmuch as the order was signed only by the Chairman, and not by the other members. The petitioner's counsel contended that this ground was not taken in the petition, but the Tribunal ultimately accepted the contention raised by the3rdrespondent, namely that the State Transport Authority's order was vitiated inasmuch as the order was signed only by the Chairman and not by the other members. Against the above order, the petitioner has filed the present writ petition.
4. It is contended in this writ petition by Mr. R. Venugopal Reddy, learned counsel for the petitioner that all the members of the State Transport Authority heard the matter and if only the minutes of the said authority had been called for by the Appellate Tribunal, it would have been clear that in the minutes all the members including the Chairman signed. He also contends that the mere fact that the order that was communicated to the parties was signed only by the Chairman should be treated only as an irregularity. It is further pointed out that when an application was filed for calling for the records, the learned Tribunal without calling for the records, pronounced orders, accepting the contention raised on behalf of the third respondent.
5. With a view to clarify the ambiguity in the order of the Tribunal, I have called for the proceedings of the State Transport Authority. The minutes of the State Transport Authority it is now not in dispute, clearly indicate that all the members have signed therein in token of the decision that was taken at the meeting, in favour of the petitioner.
6. Even so, the learned counsel for the third respondent Sri T. Venkata Ramana has contended that unless the order is communicated to the parties under the signatures of all the members, the same cannot be treated as the order of the Tribunal, notwithstanding the fact that in the minutes, all the members including the Chairman have signed. He raised an incidental submission to the effect that the State Transport Authority was a quasi-judicial Tribunal, constituted under the Motor Vehicles Act and that it is not permissible for the secretary to prepare the reasoned order of the Tribunal in the preparation of which the members and the Chairman have no part to play except in indicating the final conclusion. According to him, the reasoned order has to be prepared and formulated and signed by the members of the Tribunal.
7. In reply, the learned counsel for the petitioner Sri R. Venugopal Reddy and the learned Govt. Pleader for Transport Sri C. Rama Krishna have contended that once the members have arrived at a conclusion with regard to the result of the case, as disclosed from the minutes, the mere fact that the order was signed by the Chairman alone could not be an illegality, but at the most has to be treated as an irregularity With regard to the other submission of the petitioner's counsel, they submit that for a considerable length of time, the practice has been in vogue in the State Transport Authority for the members to indicate their conclusions in the minutes and for the Secretary to prepare the reasoned order and communicate the same, and was never questioned so far. They also contend that the petitioner has not raised the latter question either before the Appellate Tribunal or in the counter affidavit in the present writ petition.
8. Two questions are therefore raised for consideration in this Writ Petition.
1. Whether the order of the State Transport Authority singed by the Chairman alone is illegal and vitiated even in cases where the minutes disclose that all the members had arrived at the same conclusion earlier?
2. Whether the reasoned order of the Transport Authority to be prepared and passed by all the members of the State Transport Authority or whether they could give their conclusions and delegate the power of preparing the reasoned order to their Secretary?
9. On the first question, I am of the view that once the minutes of the State Transport Authority are found to be signed by all the members including the Chairman, the mere fact that the final order is communicated under the signature of the Chairman alone does not amount to any illegality. The Court has to see the substance of the matter and not the mere form, and if it is clear that all the members of the Tribunal have applied their mind to the facts of the case and arrived at a conclusion, it does not matter if the communication is made under the signature of the Chairman.
10. A question similar to the above had arisen in the context of the judgments pronounced by one member of the Court in the absence of one of the two members of the court. In the case of Ramaswami Nadar v. State of Madras, : 1958CriLJ228 , the appeal was heard by a Bench consisting of three learned judges of the Supreme Court, namely, Sri B.P. Sinha (as he then was) Sri. Govida Menon and J.L. Kapoor, JJ. The Bench had also announced that they had come to the conclusion that the appellant in that appeal should be acquitted. It appears that the draft of the judgment was prepared and sent to Govinda Menon, J. who had approved it but subsequently before the judgment was pronounced, Govida Menon, J. died and the judgment was delivered by the remaining two judges and signed only by two of them. In that context, the learned judges of the Supreme Court held as follows.
When hearing of this appeal was finished last week by a Bench consisting of three of us, i.e., B.P. Sinha, P. Govinda Menon and J.L. Kapoor, JJ., we announced that we had come to the conclusion that the appellant should be acquitted. We also indicated that the judgment will be delivered the week following. A draft of the judgment was sent to late Mr. Justice Menon last week, and he had approved of it what we are now delivering are the reasons of the judges, who constituted the Bench, but it will be signed by two only of us, on account of the unexpected leath of Mr. Justice Menon.
11. Subsequently, a similar question arose in this Court, in the case of Janagam Bhadriah v. Board of Revenue, (1963) 1 Andh LT 103, where Satyanarayana Raju, J., (as he then was) sitting with M.S. Ramachandra Rao, J heard the appeal and they had arrived at an unanimous conclusion with regard to the result of the case. Thereafter, the judgment was prepared and signed by Satyanarayana Raju, J, but it could not be signed by Rama Chandra Rao, J., who fell ill and died on 23-2- 1961 On 4-1961 Satyanarayana Raju, J. following the precedent of the Supreme Court, held that judgment could be pronounced without the signature of Ramachandra Rao, J and also pronounced the same. Thereafter an application for review was filed, contending that in the absence of the signature of Ramahcandra Rao, the entire judgment was invalid. The said contention was rejected. During the course of the above judgment, Satyanarayana Raju, J (as he then was) referred to the judgment of the Supreme Court in Ramaswamy Nadra v. State of Madas and also to another judgment of the Privy Council in 'Firm Gokal Chand Jagannath v. Firm Nand Ram Das Atma Ram AIR 1938 PC 292.
12. While referring to the provisions of R.31 of O. 41, the Privy Council pointed out that if the requirements of the said rule were not followed, the judgment does not become a nullity They observed.
'It is intended to secure certainty in the ascertainment of what the judgment was. It is a rule which judges are required to comply with for that object. No doubt, in practice judges do so comply, as it is their duty to do. But accidents may happen. A judge may die after giving judgment but before he has had a reasonable opportunity to sign it. The Court must have inherent jurisdiction to supply such a defect. The case of a judge who has gone on leave before signing judgment, may call for more comment, but even so the convenience of the Court and the interest of litigants must prevail. The defect is merely an irregularity not affecting the merits of the case or the jurisdiction of the Court and is no ground for setting aside the decree.'
13. The learned Judge in Janagam Bhadriah's case (1963 (2) Andh LT 103) also distinguished another ruling of the Supreme Court rendered in Surender Singh v. State of U.P. : 1954CriLJ475 . The case was heard in the High Court by a Bench consisting of two Judges and judgment was reserved. Before it could be delivered, one of the judges was transferred to Allahabad. While there, he dictated the judgment purporting to do so on behalf of himself and his brother judge, that is to say it purported to the a joint judgment. He used the word 'We' and 'I' He signed every page of the judgment as well as at the end but did not date it. He then sent this to the other judge at Lucknow. But unfortunately the other judge died before the judgment was delivered. Thereafter, the judgment was returned to the judge at Allahabad as the judge who was transferred to Allahabad and who had prepared it, and he pronounced the same. It was in that context that the Supreme Court pointed out that the judgment was invalid From the facts of that case, it is clear that there is no indication as to the view of the other Judge, who died; the judgment was prepared by the judge who was transferred to Allahabad and he signed it, but the brother judge had no occasion to assent to the conclusion. Where however the Judge who is unable to sign the judgment had concurred in the result or the reasoning of the case, the mere fact that the ultimate judgment was signed and pronounced by one of the two judges would only be an irregularity and not illegality.
14. In another case in this court, decided by Kuppuswani J., (as he then was) in 'Pabbau Sankari v. Income Tax Officer' : AIR1973AP84 , the position was that Vaidya, J., heard the writ petitions in question on 19-4-1972 and 20-4-1972 and reserved judgment. He dictated the judgment at home to the stenographer and the judgment was duly typed. But before it could be pronounced, the learned judge died. Thereafter, the matter was placed before Kuppuswami. J, (as he then was) for pronouncing his judgment. After referring to the above judgments of the Supreme Court and of this Court, the learned judge came to the conclusion that a judgment not signed by Vaidya J., could not be pronounced by another judge in the open court. The learned judge followed the decision of the Supreme Court in : 1954CriLJ475 and distinguished the other rulings This decision cannot also help the learned counsel for the third respondent. We are not here concerned with a case, where the judge or member of the Tribunal who prepared the judgment is not available for pronouncing the same and the same had to be pronounced by another Judge or member. In Iqbal Ismail Sodawala v. State of Maharashtra, : 1974CriLJ1291 , the Supreme Court pointed out that 'failure of the presiding judge to date and sign the judgment at the time of pronouncing it in a criminal case was a procedural irregularity curable under S.537, Cr. P.C.' It, was, however pointed out that 'dictation of judgment in English in the open court and intimation by the Sheristedar are enough' It was also pointed out that judgment must be transcribed as soon as possible after dictation.
15. From the above rulings, it is clear that if the members of the Tribunal have heard a case together and arrived at their conclusions and the conclusions were recorded in their minutes and signed, the mere fact that the final order which is communicated to the party was signed by one of the them is not an illegality but is only an irregularity not vitiating the order of the Tribunal. I therefore, accept the first contention of the learned counsel for the petitioner and reject the objection raised by the learned counsel for the third respondent.
16. The second question for consideration is whether it is open to the secretary to the State Transport Authority to prepare the reasoned judgment and for the Chairman or members to formally sign the same.
17. In this contest, it is necessary to advert to the relevant statutory provisions in the Act and Rules. Sub-cl. (2) of S.44 of the M.V. Act states that the State Transport Authority or the Regional Transport Authority shall consist of a Chairman who has had judicial experience or experience as an appellate or revisional authority under any law relating to land revenue and in the case of State Transport Authority, such other officials or non-officials, not being less than two, and, in the case of the Regional Transport Authority, such other persons (whether officials or not), not being less than two as the State Government may think fit to appoint. Under sub-cl. (7) of S.57, 'when a Regional Transport Authority refused an application for a permit of any kind, it shall give to he applicant in writing its reasons for the refusal'. There can be no doubt that the State Transport Authority has also to give reasons inasmuch as it is a quasi-judicial Tribunal like the Regional Transport Authority. R.175 of the Rules framed under the Act specified that the State Transport Authority shall have a Secretary, who shall be appointed by the Government and also be the Chief Executive officer of the State Transport Authority. The Government may appoint Assistant Secretaries and such other officers and staff for the State Transport Authority as they deem desirable.
R.177 reads as follows -
'The State Transport Authority may for the prompt and convenient despatch of its business by general or special resolution delegate to its Secretary and Assistant Secretaries all or any of the powers vested in it, provided that no delegation shall be made in respect of the following: -
(i) Powers under S.44(3) (a) to co-ordinate and regulate the activities of the Regional Transport Authorities;
(ii) Power under S.44(3) ( c) to settle disputes or differences of opinion between the Regional Transport Authorities;
(iii) Power under S.48(1), to grant or refuse stage carriage permits in cases where objections or representations are received with reference to S.57(3);
(iv) Power under S.51(1) grant or refuse contract carriage permits in cases where objections or representations are received and
(v) Power to give effect to any directions issued under S.43 by the State Government. All orders of delegation, made under R.177 are to be put on the notice board in accordance with R.179.
18. It is well settled that the members of a quasi-judicial tribunal are bound to hear a case, which arises before them, apply their minds to the facts and law arising in the case and then arrive at their conclusions and give a reasoned order in support of their conclusions. The Supreme Court pointed out in the case of Union of India v. M.L. Kapport, : (1973)IILLJ504SC as follows: -
'Reasons are the links between the materials on which certain conclusions are based and the actual conclusions. They disclose how the mind is applied to the subject matter for a decision whether it is purely administrative or quasi-judicial. They should reveal a rational nexus between the facts considered and the conclusions reached. Only in this way can opinions or decisions recorded to be shown to be manifestly just and reasonable.'
19. I am, therefore clearly of the opinion that the reasoned order i.e. the order that is communicated to the parties should contain the reasons given by the members of the Tribunal themselves, and cannot be the reasons substituted by the Secretary to the Tribunal. It is open to the Chairman or one or other of the members to prepare the reasoned order and for the other members to sign in token of their concurrence with such reasons and the conclusions.
20. It is true that some of the members are non-officials. After the reasoned order is prepared by one of the members or the Chairman, it may take some time for the other members to sign in the final order. But if the Tribunal has to function as a quasi-judicial body duly constituted by Act of parliament, we cannot have any short-cut enabling the Chairman or one of the members to give reasons to which the others have not subscribed. This last aspect of the case may indeed raise some difficulties occasionally but the quasi-judicial function of assigning the reasons cannot be sacrificed on the mere ground of inconvenience.
21. The second question to which I have adverted to above has been raised before me during the course of arguments by the learned counsel for the third respondent. As the matter is of general importance I have heard some of the other learned counsel at the Bar who are more concerned in transport matters. The submission of the counsel was unanimous, that the reasoned order is to be prepared by the members of the Tribunal, and not by the Secretary. It was also brought to my notice that earlier during the term of the office to some Chairmen, the reasoned order was also being dictated by the Chairman instead of by the Secretary.
22. The procedure which I have indicated may be applied by the State Transport Authority in all cases in future, after receipt of this judgment. So far as the cases in which it was practicing the earlier procedure of alloting to the Secretary the duty of preparing the reasoned order it is not necessary to declare those orders given in those cases as illegal or vitiated. Such objections not having been raised with regard to those orders, my judgment will not be considered as rendering all the orders issued by the Secretary to the State Transport Authority before the receipt of this judgment, to be illegal. Nor am I prepared to declare the order of the STA in the present case as illegal on that ground. However in cases where no orders a issued by the State Transport Authority before the receipt of this judgment by that Authority the procedure indicated in this judgment will be followed and the reasoned order will be prepared by the members of the Tribunal instead of by the Secretary.
23. I view of my conclusion of point 1 the view taken by the Tribunal without looking into the minutes of the State Transport Authority cannot be sustained When all the members of the State Transport Authority had signed in the minutes of the meeting, there can be no objection for the issue of the order in the name of the Chairman alone. There is clear evidence that all the members have applied their minds to the facts of the case and the conclusion mentioned. The order of the State Transport Authority is therefore valid So far as the second point is concerned, as I stated earlier it is not necessary to hold that the reasoned order of the State Transport Authority prepared by he Secretary is illegal. Further the said question was not raised before the Tribunal.
24. In view of my finding on point the impugned order of the State Transport Appellate Tribunal is quashed, and the order of the State Transport Authority is restored.
25. The Writ Petition is accordingly allowed. No Costs. Advocate's fee Rs.250/-.
26. Petition allowed.