1. The petitioner in these proceedings under Articles 226 and 227 of the Constitution for the issue of a writ o certiorari to quash certain orders of the opponents No. 1, 2, 4 and 5 is an association running stage carriages on various routes in Bilaspur district. On 30th August, 1958, the opponent No. 3, claiming itself to be a registered society under the Co-operative Societies Act, 1912, applied for a permit to ran a stage carriage on Bilaspur-Korba via Pamgarh and Champa route.
The petitioner and other operators had also made applications earlier for permits to run carriages on different routes in Bilaspur district which were rejected by the Regional Transport Authority on 11th and 12th August, 1958, on the ground that no survey of the traffic had been made and that it did not appear necessary to grant any additional permits on the routes concerned. On 28th October, 1958, the Regional Transport Authority resolved that a survey of traffic on, each route in various districts under its jurisdiction should be made and the number of services should be fixed and that the survey should be made by getting returns from the operators and securing the opinion of the district authorities.
On 30th December, 1.958, the Regional Transport Authority decided that so far as Bilaspur district was concerned the operation of its order dated 28th October, 1958, should be suspended and that all applications for the grant of stage carriage permits received till then and which might be received in future should be disposed of on merits. On this very date; the Regional Transport Authority took up for consideration the application dated 30th August, 1958, of the opponent No. 3 and granted a permit to it for the running of a direct bus service from Bilaspur to Korba.
2. The petitioner thereafter filed an appeal before the State Transport Appellate Authority against the order of the Regional Transport Authority dated 30th December, 1958, granting a permit to the opponent No. 3. One other association viz. the Raipur Transport Company (Private) Ltd., also filed an appeal against the same order. The State Transport Appellate Authority dismissed both these appeals and upheld the order of the Regional Transport Authority.
The petitioner has, therefore, filed this application for a writ of certiorari to quash the decision of the Regional Transport Authority granting a permit to the opponent No. 3 for running a stage carriage on the Bilaspur-Korba route, as also for quashing the decision of the Appellate Authority upholding the order of the Regional Transport Authority. A writ is also sought to quash certain orders of the opponents Nos. 4 and 5 in regard to the registration of the opponent No. 3 as a society under the Cooperative Societies Act, 1912.
3. There is no dispute as to the facts stated above. Shri Phadke, learned counsel appearing for the petitioner, placed the main weight of his argument on Article 14 of the Constitution and argued that having rejected on 11th and 12th August, 1958,the applications of the petitioner and other operators for stage carriage permits on different routes in Bilaspur district on the ground that no survey of the traffic on the routes concerned had been made and that it was not necessary to grant any additional permits, and having resolved on 28th October, 1958, that a survey of traffic on each route in the districts within the jurisdiction of the Regional Transport Authority should be carried out, the Regional Transport Authority was not justified in taking up for consideration the application of the opponent No. 3 on 30th December 1958, immediately after reversing its policy in the matter of survey in Bilaspur district and deciding to consider on merits the applications received for grant of stage carriage permits in that district.
It was said that the sudden reversal of the policy and the immediate consideration thereafter of the application of the opponent No. 3 deprived the petitioner and other persons operating on various routes in Bilaspur district of an opportunity to apply for the route in question and to oppose effectively the grant of a permit to the opponent No. 3, and thus the order passed by the Regional Transport Authority was in violation of Article 14 and the principles of natural justice.
Learned counsel did not dispute the right of the Regional Transport Authority to vary its decision of 28th October, 1958, about the taking of a survey and to decide on 30th December, 1958, to issue permits in Bilaspur district without any survey of traffic being taken. What he contended on the authority of C. S. S. Motor Service, Tenkasi v. State of Madras, AIR 1953 Mad 279 and M. Ramayya v. State of Andhra, AIR 1956 Andhra 217 was that whatever principles the Regional Transport Authority adopted for making selection among the applicants for the grant of permits it was essential that the Regional Transport Authority should have applied those principles uniformly and without differentiation and discrimination.
4. In reply, Shri Tankha, learned counsel appearing for the opponent No. 3, sought to support the order of the Regional Transport Authority and the Appellate Authority by contending that the permit in favour of his client was granted by the Regional Transport Authority on a consideration of traffic demand on the route and in the interest of the public in general that on 30th December, 1958, the Regional Transport Authority dealt with all the applications received till then on merits; that the petitioner had never applied for running a stage carriage on the Bilaspur-Korba route; that it had only objected to the issue of a permit to the opponent No. 3 in respect of the Bilaspur-Korba route; that the Regional Transport Authority did not give any preference to the opponent No. 3, which was the sole applicant for permit for Bilaspur-Korba route; that the petitioner itself had applied on 21st August, 1958, for a stage Carriage permit on Champa-Birra route, which was granted by the Regional Transport Authority on 30th December 1958; that other operators were also given permits on that date; and that, therefore, it could not be maintained that the petitioner and other operators were not aware of the change in the policy adopted by the Regional Transport Authority in the matter of grant of permits on various routes in Bilaspur district or thatthey were denied an equal opportunity of applying for the route in question or other routes in Bilaspur district Learned counsel also raised the objection that this petition in the name of a private limited company was not competent, as an application under Article 226 could not be made in the name of a firm.
5. The preliminary objection raised on behalf of the opponent No. 3 as to the maintainability of the petition may be disposed of at the outset by saying that it is without any substance. Article 226 of the Constitution says nothing as to the person who can apply for an appropriate order or writ or direction. But there can be no doubt that a person or a body whose interests are directly affected by a statute or au order can have redress under that article.
It is difficult to see how the petitioner, which had actually applied for permit in the name used in this petition and to which, on the opponent's own statement, permits were issued for certain routes, can be said to be a person or a body not directly affected by the impugned order of the Regional Transport Authority. In our opinion, the petitioner is entitled to apply under Article 226 of the Constitution for relief in respect of a matter which hits the association directly.
6. In our opinion, the contention put forward| on behalf of the petitioner that in granting a permit to the opponent No. 3 on Bilaspur-Korba route the Regional Transport Authority acted contrary to Article 14 of the Constitution and the principles of natural justice must be given effect to. In disposing of the applications for permits, the Regional Transport Authority is required to take into consideration the matters referred to in Section 47 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939 and the objections raised under Section 57(3).
Under Sub-section (5) of Section 57, when any representation under Sub-section (3) is made, the Regional Transport Authority is required to dispose of the application at a public hearing at which the applicant and the person making the representation have an opportunity of being heard either in person or through an authorised representative. It is well settled that the provisions of Section 47 are mandatory and the matters mentioned therein must be taken into consideration.
In the matter of issuing stage carriage permits, the Regional Transport Authority has to be guided by the interest of the public generally, advantages to the public of the services likely to be provided, adequacy of the existing transport services. Benefit to any particular locality or localities likely to be afforded by the service, condition of the roads, and the operation by the applicant of other transport services. Section 47 itself does not lay down the manner and the principles on which these factors should be taken into consideration. The competent authority has to formulate its own policy and rules on these matters and put them in execution. The authority can change the policy and the rules. But whatever policy or rules may be standing at any time, the Regional Transport Authority is required to carry out the policy and follow the rules so as not to make a departure from the principle of equal protection of the law and from natural justice.
He is not at liberty to apply one set of principles and rules to particular applicants and entirely differ-ent to others, and if he does that, he clearly violates I the principle embodied in Article 14 of the Constitution. The necessity of applying uniform principles to all in granting or refusing permits so as to conform to Article 14 was emphasized by Venkatarama Ayyar J., who delivered the judgment of the Division Bench in AIR 1953 Mad 279, in these words:
'But whatever principles be adopted as criteria for making the selection among the applicants it is necessary that they should be applied uniformly and without differentiation as if they had been enacted as part of the statute. This does not, however, prevent, the State from altering its rules from time to time when as a result of experience it discovers that they require to be altered in the interests of the public. But what is necessary is that at any given time there must be one set of rules and regulations governing the disposal of all the applications. .... There should not be two different and opposing principles both in operation at the same time, one being applied to One applicant and the other to the other. Rules should be observed not 'ad hoc' with reference to particular applicants but generally with reference to all applicants. There should be a government of laws and not of men'.
The decision in AIR 1953 Mad 279 (supra) was followed in AIR 1956 Andhra 217.
7. Now, in the instant case, what happened was that the applications, which the petitioner and some other operators had preferred for grant of stage carriage permits on certain routes in Bilaspur district, were rejected on 11th and 12th August 1958 on the ground that those applications could not be considered as no survey of the traffic had been made. Thereafter the Regional Transport Authority resolved on 28-10-1958 to undertake a survey of traffic on various routes in the districts under his jurisdiction.
Until 28th October 1958 the policy of the Regional Transport Authority was not to consider any application for permit till the completion of the survey. This policy was suddenly changed on 30-12-1958 and the Regional Transport Authority decided to grant permits for routes in Bilaspur district even though the survey for that district had not been completed. It is noteworthy that what the Regional Transport Authority decided on this date was that its order dated 28th October 1958 'should be kept in abeyance for a further period of six months' so far as Bilaspur district was concerned.
The decision to grant permits for Bilaspur district was thus not because of the completion of survey of that district, but despite it. Now, it is reasonable to think that when the Regional Transport Authority had dismissed on 11th and 12th August 1958 certain applications on the ground of lack of survey and decided on 28th October 1958 to hold a survey, the petitioner, or for the matter of that any other operator or applicant for a permit, could not have contemplated that the Regional Transport Authority would proceed on 30-12-1958 to dispose of on merits some pending applications for permit which had not been rejected for lack of survey.
If the reversal of the policy by the Regional Transport Authority had been made known to all the persons interested in applying for permits, then they would have made fresh applications for grant of permits in respect of different routes in the Bilaspurdistrict, including the Bilaspur-Korba route, undeterred by any fear or apprehension that their applications would meet the same fate which befell some applications on 11th and 12th August 1958.
8. Learned counsel for the opponent No. 3 laid considerable stress on the circumstances that the order dated 28-10-1958 for survey did not bar anyone from applying for any permit on any route, that as a matter of fact the said non-applicant had actually applied on 30-8-1958 before the order for survey was made and subsequently suspended on 30-12-1958, and that the petitioner had also applied after 12-8-1958 for a stage carriage permit on Champa-Birra route, and argued that the petitioner could not, therefore, complain that he had no opportunity of applying for any route inclusive of the Bilaspur-Korba route.
To us, it seems that the facts that the opponent No. 3 applied long before the order for survey was made, that the petitioner objected to its application, and that the petitioner itself applied after 12-8-1958 for a permit on Champa-Birra route are wholly irrelevant to the question whether the Regional Transport Authority gave notice of his new policy to all the persons concerned and gave them an equal opportunity of applying and of being heard before him and stating their case and their view.
Merely because the petitioner knowing that no application for permit would be considered until a survey was held and completed yet took a chance of applying for a permit on the Champa-Birra route with little hope of the application being considered on merits, and that on 30-12-1958 when confronted with the sudden reversal of the policy of the Regional Transport Authority made the best of the situation by pressing his application, it cannot be said that it had the same effective opportunity of applying, of stating its objections, and of being heard, which it would have had if it had known beforehand that the non-completion of the survey would not stand in the way of consideration of any application.
The fact that the petitioner did not complain of discrimination and denial of proper opportunity before the Regional Transport Authority does not preclude the petitioner from saying here that the right guaranteed by Article 14 of the Constitution has been violated. The Supreme Court has recently pointed out in Basheshar Nath v. Commissioner of Income-tax, Delhi and Rajasthan, AIR 1959 SC 149 that Article 14 is an admonition addressed to the State and does not directly purport to confer any right on any person as some of the other articles, that it is a command issued by the Constitution to the State as a matter of public policy with a view to implement its object of ensuring the equality of status and opportunity which every welfare State, such as India, is by her Constitution expected to do and no person can, by any act or conduct, relieve the State of the solemn obligation imposed on it by the Constitution; and that a person cannot, therefore, waive a breach of this fundamental right that is indirectly conferred on him by the constitutional mandate directed to the State.
It cannot be denied that the decision of the Regional Transport Authority until 30-12-1958 not to grant any permit in Bilaspur district till the completion of the survey must have influenced various persons interested in applying for permits, in postponing their applications till after the survey is completed, and in the seriousness and tenacity in pursuing applications and objections made before the 30-12-1958.
It is possible that if the petitioner had known in good time about the lifting of the ban of survey, at might have seriously applied for permit in respect of the Bilaspur-Korba route itself and would have opposed the opponent No. 3's application with equal seriousness. The entire circumstances connected with the rejection on 11th and 12th August 1958 of the applications for permits for a portion of the route included in the route for which the opponent No. 3 obtained permit and the grant later on of a permit to the opponent No. 3 on a reversal of the policy were completely discriminatory and reflect a withholding and a denial of right and justice. The Regional Transport Authority failed in every respect to carry out the statutory duties and obligations and to observe the relevant mandatory provisions of the Act. In effect, after the reversal of the policy on 30-12-1958 there was no consideration or disposal as required by the Act of any application for permit received from a person having full knowledge of the reversal of the policy.
The State Transport Appellate Authority altogether failed to appreciate the objection of the petitioner resting on Article 14 and on the principles of natural justice when it disposed of the objection by saying that the petitioner had not been able to show that the change in the policy of the Regional Transport Authority prevented some of the operators from applying for the route and that it resulted in giving a preferential treatment to the opponent No. 3, the sole applicant for the route.
Learned counsel for the petitioner also raised the point that the opponent No. 3's application for registration as a co-operative society under Section 8 of the Co-operative Societies Act was first rejected by the Deputy Registrar on 3-10-1958, that no appeal was filed against this order of rejection, that thereafter the Registrar directed the Deputy Registrar, on whom the powers of the Registrar under Section 9 of the Act had been conferred, to register the society, that the Registrar had no jurisdiction to give the direction that he did to the Deputy Registrar, and that he could not sit in appeal against the order of the Deputy Registrar who discharged the functions of tile Registrar.
It was also said that the application for registration was not made according to law. In the view we have taken of the infringement in this case of Article 14 of the Constitution and of the invalidity of the order granting a permit to the opponent No. 3, learned counsel for the parties did not address any arguments on this contention. The question of the validity of the registration of the opponent No. 3 as a co-operative society, is thus left open and can be raised by the applicant before the Regional Transport Authority if and when opponent No. 3 applies again for a permit.
9. For the foregoing reasons, the decisions of the State Transport Appellate Authority and of the Regional Transport Authority granting permit to the opponent No. 3 in respect of Bilaspur-Korba route are quashed, and the Regional Transport Authority is directed to invite fresh applications for permitson that route and dispose of them in accordance Withlaw and in conformity with this judgment. The petitioner shall have costs of this application from the opponent No. 3. Counsel's fee is fixed at Rs. 75/-.The outstanding amount of security deposit be refunded to the petitioner.