1. Can the Corporation of Madras levy charges for parking of vehicles in the parking lots, and that too, at the rates now prescribed by the Corporation for parking of four wheelers, three wheelers, and two wheelers? According to the petitioner, the corporation cannot levy charges and even if it can, the charges prescribed are arbitrary and unreasonable, hence the petitioner has filed this petition for the issue of a writ of mandamus to make the Corporation of Madras (the first respondent herein) forbear from collecting parking fee in respect of his vehicles whenever they are parked in the parking lots set apart by the first respondent.
2. The petitioner's case, as contained in the affidavit sworn to by him, is to the following effect: The petitioner is a businessman and has his place of business in Godown St, Madras 1. In connection with his business, he is owning three cars. It has been his practice to go to his place of business every morning by car and then keep the vehicle parked in the traffic island behind the Flower Bazar Police Station from morning till evening. The parking of cars in that area does not cause any obstruction to the traffic passing along N. S. C. Bose Road. The Corporation had not been collecting hitherto any parking fee from owners of motor vehicles for the parking of their cars in parking lots. However, for the first time, the Corporation introduced a system of priced parking in the city from 16-7-1984. It has notified certain areas as parking lots and one of the areas so notified is the traffic island behind the Flower Bazar Police Station. As per the notification, there will be a levy of parking fee for parking of vehicles between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. on all days except Sundays, in the parking lots. A fee of Re. I per hour has been prescribed for four wheelers and three wheelers subject to a maximum of Rs.10 per day and a fee of 50paise per hour has been prescribed for two wheelers subject to a maximum of Rs.5 per day. In addition to the payment of parking fee, it is also incumbent upon the owner or driver of the vehicle to assess the period of parking of the vehicle and obtain a ticket from the parking attendant at the time of parking. Before the expiry of the exit time punched in the ticket the vehicle should be removed from the parking lot, failing which a penalty of Rs.2 per hour or part thereof has to be paid for four wheelers and three wheelers and a penalty of Re. 1 per hour or part thereof has to be paid for two wheeler0l for the excess period. In spite of the collection of parking fee, the Corporation does not hold itself liable for any theft or damage caused to the vehicle during the time it is parked in the parking lot. It is the case of the petitioner that the levy of parking fee is illegal, arbitrary and without jurisdiction. No special benefit or privilege is conferred on the owners of vehicles in return for the collection of parking fee. There are no guidelines on the basis of which the fee has been fixed and, furthermore, there is no correlation between the fee collected and the services rendered. On account of these factors the petitioner would say that the levy of parking fee is illegal and hence the Corporation must be restrained by means of a writ of mandamus from collecting parking fee in respect of his vehicles.
3. On an examination of the matter, I find that the contentions of the petitioner are not sustainable either in law or on grounds of public policy. Under S. 285(l) of the Madras City Municipal Corporation Act (Tamil Nadu Act IV of 19191), the Commissioner of a Corporation can construct or provide public landing places, halting places, cart stands, cattle sheds and cow houses and may charge and levy such fees for the use of the same as the Standing Committee may fix. The Explanation to the sub-section states that a cart stand shall for the purposes of the Act, include a stand for carriages including motor vehicles within the meaning of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939 and animals. It may therefore be seen that it is open to the Corporation to construct or provide halting places for parking of four wheelers, three wheelers and two wheelers and also levy such fees for the use of the same as the Standing Committee may fix. In fact, it is even open to the Commissioner, under sub-sec. (3) of S. 285 to farm out the collec6,on of such fees for any period not exceeding three years at a time, on such terms and conditions as he may think fit. The petitioner is not aggrieved with the setting, apart of parking lots by the Corporation, but is only aggrieved about the collection of parking fee. According to him the parking of vehicles should be allowed free of charges as had been done hitherto and if that is not possible, the charges ought to be nominal and commensurate with the services rendered by the Corporation by way of quid pro quo for the collection of parking charges.
4. Before considering the legal aspect of the petitioner's contention, it has to be pointed out that even on grounds of public policy, his contention cannot be accepted. In big cities like Madras, there are only a few parking lots available and those parking lots have to serve the needs of a large number of persons owning vehicles. The limited space available in the parking lots has to be shared in a fair and reasonable manner among all owners of vehicles in need of parking space and the parking lots cannot be monopolised by a few persons alone and that too, without paying charges. If about 20 or 30 persons like the petitioner who have their business premises near the Flower Bazar Police Station, park their motor cars and other vehicles in the parking lot from morning till evening, the others would stand completely deprived of the use of the parking
lot even If their requirement of the parking lot is only for half an hour or one hour. One of the effective methods by which a monopolistic use of a parking lot by a few car owners can be prevented is, by introduction of a system of collecting parking charges. By reason of the introduction of this system, the car owners will stop treating the parking lot as their private garages and keeping their vehicles parked from morning till night. Once they, make a restricted use of the parking lot, then it goes without saying that other persons owning vehicles can also have the facility of the parking lot for parking their vehicles for limited durations.
.5. coming now, to the legal aspect of the petitioner's contention, I have already pointed out that under the statute the Corporation has got the requisite power to provide halting places or parking places for motor vehicles. The argument that the parking fee that has been prescribed is not on the basis of any guidelines but is arbitrary, is not tenable. It is, no doubt true that no guidelines have been prescribed. But, under the Act, the Standing Committee has been empowered to prescribe the scale of fees, that may be collected for landing places, halting places, cart stand etc, As there is no Standing Committee functioning at present and since the Special Officer and the Commissioner of other Corporation are empowered to administer the Corporation, it is well within their power to fix the rates of fee for user of the parking lots. The rate of levy of Re. I for four wheelers and three wheelers and 50paise for two wheelers for every hour of parking, and the levy of double the rates for unauthorised user of the parking lot for every hour of such user, can, by no- stretch of imagination, be said to be excessive. When advancing the argument that the levy is on the high side, the petitioner should also take into considaration the cost of petrol and diesel and the additional expenses he would have to incur if the Corporation fails to provide parking lots at important places and forces the vehicle owners to drive off their vehicles to distant places in search of parking space. The levy of parking fee at slab rates, is a well known system throughout the world. The additional levy made for over stay of the vehicles in the parking lot is also intended to prevent monopolistic use of .the parking space by a few owners of vehicles. Besides, the collection of parking charges at enhanced rates for periods of over-stay, will make people conscious of time and instil in them a sense of value of time and is therefore an additional reason for justifying the system.
6. With reference to the argument that the collection of parking fee should be on quid pro quo basis and that the services rendered by the Corporation in return is grossly disproportionate to the amount of fee collected, the fallacy in the contention is twofold. In the first place, the levy of parking fee cannot be construed as a fee in the limited sense of being quid pro quo charges for the services rendered by the Corporation to the owner of a vehicle for taxi, but it is a return or fee or consideration for the permission granted by the owner of a property to a third party to make use of the said property. Under the City Municipal Corporation Act, all public streets, pavements and appurtenances vest in the Corporation. Therefore when the Corporation creates a parking lot and allows owners of vehicles to park their vehicles therein on payment of certain charges the amount collected is not exclusively by way of fee for quid pro quo services rendered by the Corporation, but also by way of return for the user of its property. The law on this subject has been succinctly laid down by the Division Bench of this Court, to both of which I was a party Vide Arumugha Kone v. Palayamkottai Municipal Council, (1974) 1 Mad 258 and Market Vyabarigal Sangam Coimbatore v. Municipal Council, Coimbatore 87 MLW 697 : 1975 TLR 1241. In those cases, the question was whether a Municipality was entitled to collect increased fees for the use of the stalls or shops built by it and let out to persons for running their business. While answering the question in the affirmative, it was pointed out as follows -
The fee or the levy or the impost made under S. 260(2) of the Tamil Nadu District Municipalities Act has a peculiar characteristic in that it is collection made by virtue of the powers in a statute, and incidentally, it is a necessary power annexed to ownership of properties vested in the owners'.
Hence, the argument that the levy of parking 1 charges should bear relation to the services rendered in return by the Corporation is not legally sustainable.
7. I may also dispose of another contention at this juncture viz, that the Corporation does not take the responsibility of safeguarding the vehicles from loss or that in spite of collecting parking fee. The collection of parking fee is by way of return for a vehicle owner making use of the parking lot and not for anything else. The Corporation is not in the position of an insurer when it collects a parking fee of Re. 1 per hour for allowing a four wheeler or three wheeler or 50paise per hour for a two wheeler to be parked in the parking lot. The Corporation is, therefore, under no legal obligation to guarantee the safety of the vehicle left in the parking lot merely because of its collection of charges for parking.
8. Lastly, I may refer to a decision of the Supreme Court in Narayana Iyer v. Union of India, : AIR1976SC1986 . That was a case filed to challenge the revision of tariff rates by the Telephones department, under the Indian Telegraph Amendment Rules 1966 the rental and call charges were increased by 50 per cent and trunk call charges by about 30 to 35 per cent. This was challenged on the ground that the Telephone system is a public utility service and not a revenue earning establishment and the charges can be only in the nature of a fee which must be commensurate with the cost of rendering the service. The Supreme Court rejected the contention on three grounds, but, for our purposes, it is enough if the first ground alone is referred to. The Supreme Court held that no one is compelled to subscribe to a telephone and therefore, if a subscriber to a telephone enters into a contract with the State, he has to pay the rates charged by the State, for installation. The same ratio will apply here also. No one is compelling the petitioner to park his vehicle in the parking lot. It is left to him to take his vehicle elsewhere and park it. But, if he wants to make use of the parking lot, he has to abide by the conditions imposed by the Corporation. In all such matters, the benefit sought to be conferred upon the public should have prevalence over personal considerations and personal advantages.
9. For all the aforesaid reasons, the petition deserves to fail and will accordingly stand dismissed.
10. Petition dismissed.