1. The subject-matter of this writ petition is a long drawn affair but concerns a very simple matter in the matter of the grant of an extension of a route permit. Which is inter-State in character.
2. The petitioner is a motor vehicle operator having a permit in the Kerala State to operate between Tiruchur and Velanthavalam. It applied to the primary Authority in the State of Kerala for extension of this route beyond Velanthavalam to Coimbatore, inside the State of Madras. The primary authority after following the usual procedure granted the extension in the first instance. I may at once state that the first respondent here, also a bus operator, opposed such a grant before the appropriate transport authorities in the State of Kerala as well as in the High Court of Kerala. The first respondent was unsuccessful. Thereafter, as is required under Section 63(1) of the Motor Vehicles Act. which obliges such a permit holder to obtain the counter signature of the Regional Transport Authority, within the State of Madras, the petitioner approached the said authority for the necessary endorsement. On 20-1-1968, the Regional Transport Authority, Coimbatore, granted the counter signature for the portion of the route Trichur to Coimbatore via Velanthavalam in respect of its buses coming in and going out of the State of Madras. On appeal, which was again at the instance of the first respondent, the State Transport Appellate Tribunal, Madras, doubted whether an appeal lay as against the order of the Regional Transport Authority and it was also of the view that certain irrelevant considerations weighed with the Regional Transport Authority when it granted the countersignature on 20-1-1968. The Tribunal, therefore, set aside the order and remanded the matter to be disposed of afresh by the Regional Transport authority. The petitioner took up the matter to this Court in W.P. No. 2576 of 1968 (P. S. N. Motor Pvt. Ltd. v. V. C. K. Bus Service Ltd.). This court held that an appeal was maintainable by the Tribunal, Kailasam, J., while disposing of the same, was of the view that the first respondent was not given an effective opportunity to make its representations and therefore while confirming the order of remand, dismissed the writ petition. The learned Judge, however, permitted the petitioner to run its vehicles on the foot of the counter signature granted by the Regional Transport authority during the pendency of the appeal before the Tribunal on remand. It is, therefore, seen that during the year 1968 and for some part of the year 1969, the petitioner was running its vehicle from Trichur to Coimbatore via Velanthavalam. Therefore, it had to necessary data with it to prove the occupational ratio on the entirety of this route, So goes the contention of the first respondent.
3. To continue the narrative, the Regional Transport Authority Coimbatore, on remand by the Tribunal, as confirmed by this Court, once again considered the matter and passed an order on 27-3-1969 stating that the extension sought for would be in public interest, as the trains which serve the route in question go in a circuitous way and the public need for convenient transport is not conveniently met. The authority was also of the view that the high occupancy ratio inside Madras State indicated that there was still need for additional transport facilities. The State Transport Appellate Tribunal differed from the Regional Transport authority when the first respondent took up the matter in appeal and said that the petitioner who knew about the potency of such occupancy ratio between Trichur and Coimbatore, has not let in any evidence to prove the same, and even otherwise there was no date on record to show that occupancy ratio compelled an additional grant as made by the primary authority. The Tribunal set aside the order of the primary authority. The Tribunal also said that the Road Transport authority could have made an investigation by itself to ascertain whether there was any need for direct connection between Trichur and Coimbatore. It is against this, the present writ petition has been filed.
4. It is no doubt true that when an out of State primary authority considers it feasible to grant a permit which ultimately would be an inter-State permit, such a grant by itself cannot reflect upon the public need for the adoption of such grant by the complementary authority in the other State as if it is a matter of course. When a responsible authority functioning under the Motor Vehicles Act considers in the presence of the aggrieved person whether an inter-State route permit has to be granted by way of an permit has to be granted by way of an extension of an existing intra-State permit, then it is normal, if not reasonable, to presume that such authority did have some material before it to find and ultimately grant the inter-State permit asked for. A fortiori it is so in a case where, when the first respondent who has been fighting with the petitioner from 1956 and opposing the extension of the permit into the State of Madras, was a party to those proceedings not only at the level of the Road Traffic Board, Trichur (Kerala) and the Central Board of Traffic Travancore (Kerala) but also the High Court of Kerala. I am of the view that that would be a relevant consideration which should automatically weigh with the 'out of State' authorities functioning under the very Act when the subject comes up before them for granting the 'counter signature', as it is called under S. 63(1).
5. With this background, it has to be seen whether the Tribunal's order suffers from an error apparent. Ordinarily, the appellate Tribunal functioning under the Motor Vehicles Act. cannot lightly brush aside the factual finding given by the Regional Transport authority, particularly in the matter of occupancy ratio of a particular route. In the instant case, the Regional Transport authority found that there was 'high occupancy ratio' in the route under consideration, particularly the extended portion of it in the State of Madras. Further, the Regional Transport authority would say that public interests required that a direct vehicular operation on the route was necessary in order to avoid a circuitous rail route which was the only available service to the public at large. Instead of referring to these two aspects, which were the primary reasons for the Regional Transport authority to grant the counter signature, the appellate, Tribunal, in my view quite unnecessarily, went into the question whether the occupancy ratio between Trichur and Coimbatore was adequate, and if it should be held to be inadequate what is the material to assume it was so. According to the Tribunal, the material ought to have been found by the Regional Transport authority, Coimbatore. According to the first respondent, the material ought to have been furnished by the writ petitioner. Neither of these processes is called for in law; nor can it be furnished by the writ petitioner as if it was an obligation or a statutory duty on its part; nor can it be found by the Regional Transport authority as if it is enjoined by the statute to do so. In the absence of any obligation or compulsion under the Act for the writ petitioner to provide such material, and since the Act does not compel the Regional Transport authority to make a 'departmental' enquiry of its own, the appellate Tribunal was wrong in saying that the Regional Transport authority can use his departmental sources or collect the data about the occupancy ratio between Trichur and Coimbatore.
6. The appellate Tribunal was no doubt satisfied that the material reflected the occupancy ratio in the extended sector. But it would assume that such data was insufficient as it would not reflect the real position of occupancy between Trichur and Coimbatore. I have already stated that such a matter was the subject of a prior enquiry before the appropriate authorities in Kerala State including the High Court of Kerala and that it should be presumed that when the subject came up before such authorities in the Kerala State, they should have applied their mind on the reality of the situation. The very fact that they granted the inter-State permit resulting in an extension assumes that the occupancy ratio inside the State of Kerala is proved beyond reasonable doubt. In any event, this is a relevant consideration which apparently the Regional Transport Authority, Coimbatore, took, and which the appellate Tribunal failed to advert to.
7. The argument, however, is that the order impugned does not project an error apparent as the Tribunal did have the jurisdiction to conclude in the matter it did. Normally, the conclusions arrived at by the Tribunal, cannot lightly be interfered with by Courts exercising jurisdiction under Art. 226 of the Constitution. But in the instant case, the appellate Tribunal erred in assuming that unless there is a positive proof or reliable date about the occupancy ratio between Trichur and Velanthvalam, it would not be proper for the transport authorities to grant a counter-signature notwithstanding the fact that in the extended sector, in the State of Madras, there is material available to prove that the occupancy ratio required an additional grant. This conclusion is not based upon any theory which could be justified and as this decision, therefore, is irregular an therefore improper, the order projects an apparent error.
8. I may also mention that the petitioner appears to be fighting a bona fide cause, for, it was always its case that it 'will not pick up or set down passengers in between Velanthvalam and Coimbatore and vice versa'. The shows that the request for the extension asked for by the petitioner is not to compete with the motor Vehicles inside the State of Madras. Learned counsel for the petitioner also says that the writ petitioner will abide by this condition while running the service.
9. As I am of the view that the occupancy ratio in the route in question, between Trichur and Velanthavalam, could be assumed by reason of the proceedings taken in the State of Kerala, which preceded the present proceedings in this State, and to which prior proceedings the first respondent herein was a party, it was not necessary for the writ petitioner, or the Regional Transport Authority, to reinvestigate into the same. In this view, the appellate Tribunal was wrong in having interfered with the order of the Regional Transport Authority, which was based upon public need and public convenience. There is no reason in the order impugned which could be accepted by this Court as the ground for such an interference with the order of the Regional Transport Authority. Though in such matters, the orders of the Regional Transport Authority are styled as orders of quasi-judicial tribunals, yet they are purely administrative in character and essentially executive in nature. The touchstone in all such matters is expediency, public interest, general public need, occupancy ratio etc. This has been adverted to by the original Authority, the Regional Transport Authority, Coimbatore. For what reasons, the appellate Tribunal differed from the considered opinion of the Regional Transport Authority that there was public need for the inter-State grant, and for the counter signature, is not at all clear. In this view also there is no (?) error apparent.
10. The writ petition is, therefore, allowed, and the order of the Tribunal is set aside and the order of the Regional Transport Authority is restored. There will be no order as to costs.
11. Writ allowed.