V.R. Krishna Iyer, J.
1. A single fundamental flaw in the order of the Appellate Tribunal (under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939), constrains us to allow this Appeal challenging the High Court's refusal to interfere with the grant of the permit in favour of Respondent No. 2.
2. Many applicants for one permit for a 'short route' pressed their claims before the Regional Transport Authority which evaluated the relevant merits and awarded the permit to Applicant No. 6, who is the Appellant before us. On appeal, Applicant No. 3, who is respondent No. 2 before us, succeeded. Whereupon, a Writ Petition was filed without success and the disappointed appellant has come to this Court by special leave.
3. The system of marks under the Rules framed under the Act by the Tamil Nadu Government, prescribes the various qualifications for applicants for permits for passenger transport under the Motor Vehicles Act. Rule 155-A crystallises these considerations and describes them as guiding principles for the grant of stage carriage permits. The rule itself emphasizes what is obvious, that the paramount consideration of the interest of the public, as enshrined in Section 47(1), must be given full weight while awarding permits. That means to say that the various factors set out in Rule 155-A are subject to Section 47(1). This is clarified by Sub-rule (4) of Rule 155-A, which runs thus :
After marks have been awarded under Sub-rule (3), the applicants shall be ranked according to the total marks obtained by them and the application shall be disposed of in accordance with the provisions of Sub-section (1) of Section 47.
4. There is no doubt that bus transport is calculated to benefit the public and it is in the fitness of things that the interest of the travelling public is highlighted while evaluating the relevant worth of the various claimants.
5. There are two circumstances which require to be stressed because they have been overlooked by the appellate tribunal in its disposal of the comparative merits of the rival claimants. Sub-rule (5)(i) of Rule 155-A states that preference shall, other things being equal, be given in the disposal of applications in respect of short routes to persons who have not held any permit for a stage carriage. Among the considerations which must weigh with the authorities entrusted with the power to grant permits, is business or technical experience in the field of motor vehicles operation Rule 155-A in Item (b), Sub-rule (3) specifically states ''two marks shall be awarded to the applicants who have business or technical experience in the road transport service as defined in Clause (a) of Section 68-A of any clause of transport vehicles for a period of ten years or more'.
6. Having regard to the marking system as adumbrated in Rule 155-A, a broad sheet was apparently prepared and the appellant before us (Applicant No. 6) secured 4 marks as against the second respondent (Applicant No. 3) who got 3.10 marks. Ordinarily, therefore, the applicant who got higher marks. should have won the battle. Morever, in a short route, as in this case, the rule contemplates preference being given to a new entrant, of course, other things being equal. In this case, therefore, the appellant before us, being admittedly a new entrant, was entitled to preference, the route being a short one, other things being equal. The short question that, therefore, fell before the Appellate Authority was as to whether other things were equal. This aspect attracted the attention of the Appellate Authority, but its consideration unfortunately was unsatisfactory. The Appellate Tribunal observed that though the Applicant No. 6 had secured higher marks than Applicant No. 3: 'I am inclined, having regard to the public interest in the matter of passenger transport service, to agree with the appellant's contention that the respondent's experience as lorry operator cannot be equated with the appellant's experience in bus operation.' This view, according to him, is tenable under Section 47(1) since this matter involves grant of bus permit.' The fact that the appellants are bus operators, must necessarily over-ride the fact of the respondent being a lorry operator. Though the route in question is a short route and there is a new entrant like the respondent, the respondent cannot automatically be preferred in the absence of other things being equal, in accordance with Clause 5(1) of Rule 155-A'.
7. The error that has crept into the order of the Appellate Tribunal consists in thinking that the rules or guidelines could be discarded in the name of Section 47(1). Actually, Rule 155-A is in implementation of Section 47(1), but is not exhaustive of all the considerations that will prevail in a given situation. Therefore, it is that there is jurisdiction given to the Tribunal to take note of other considerations in public interest flowing out of Section 47(1). Not that the sub-rules of Rule 155-A can be discarded, but that they may be supplemented or outweighed. Not that, in the name of public interest, something opposed to the sub rules of Rule 155-A can be done but that, within the combined frame-work of Section 47(1) and Rule 155-A, there is scope for play of the jurisdiction of the Tribunal to promote public interest. Viewed in this perspective the Appellate Tribunal has actually contravened Rule 155(3)(D). That provision expressly accords two marks for applicants who have a certain experience in road transport service. 'Road transport service' is defined in Clause (a) of Section 68-A and this definition is specifically incorporated in Rule 155-A(3)(D). It follows that the rule makes no distinction between the type of transport vehicle in which experience has been gained, whether it be a passenger transport or a lorry transport. The view taken by the appellate tribunal that because the permit is for a passenger transport, lorry service experience, even if it falls under Rule 155 A(3)(D), can be ignored, is therefore, illegal. A relevant factor has thus been wrongly excluded.
8. Connected with the same flaw is what we have earlier indicated namely, that the Appellate Tribunal has held that the new entrant (Applicant No. 6) need not be given the preference he is eligible for under Rule 155A(5) because other things are not equal. According to him, other things not equal because Applicant No. 6 has lorry transport experience while Applicant No. 3 has bus transport experience. We have already explained that this is a fallacy. In this view, the preference that flows in favour of applicant No. 6 under Rule 155 A(5) should not have been denied to him for the reasons set out by the Tribunal.
9. For these reasons, the order of the Appellate Tribunal is liable to be quashed. The well-worn ground that met material consideration, if ignored, makes the order vulnerable, applied. Moreover, there is an apparent misconstruction of the relevant rule by the Appellate Tribunal, as we have explained above.
10. This does not mean that this Court will award the permit to one party or the other. That is the function of the statutory body created under the Motor Vehicles Act Moreover, as Mr. Sen, appearing for the second respondent, has rightly pointed out, his client had many other grounds to urge before the Appellate Tribunal to establish his superiority, which have not been adverted to by the Appellate Tribunal because on one ground he succeeded. It is only fair, therefore, that the case is remanded to the Appellate Tribunal for being heard de novo Where in both sides (no other applicant will be heard), will be entitled to urge their respective claims, for the single permit that is available to be awarded.
11. The only point that remains to be decided is as to what is to happen for bus operation during the period the Appeal is to be heard and the further proceedings which may follow. We direct that the second respondent he allowed to ply the bus as he is doing it now until disposal of the appeal by the Appellate Tribunal. It is represented by Mr. Ramamurthy, appearing for the Appellant, that his client had been plying the bus on the route on an earlier occasion till the High Court dismissed the Writ Petition. If there had been any period when both operators had been plying their buses on the route during (he course of this litigation, especially at the time the Writ Petition was pending in the High Court, it will be open to the Appellate Tribunal to allow the Appellant before us (Applicant No. 6) also to ply his bus on the same route. With these directions, we allow the Appellate Tribunal to dispose of the motor vehicles Appeal No. 242 of 1970. parties will bear their own costs throughout.