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Abbas Ali Vs. the Secretary, Regional Transport Authority, Malappuram District and Another - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
CourtKerala High Court
Decided On
Case NumberWP(C).Nos. 10484 (I) 13485, 14738, 14753, 17244 & 17465 of 2011
Judge
AppellantAbbas Ali
RespondentThe Secretary, Regional Transport Authority, Malappuram District and Another
Excerpt:
.....brought by the criminal law amendment act, 1952. the question focused upon to interpret the word "pending" was intricately linked with the meaning of the expression "trial" in criminal cases. this is how the discussion proceeds in paragraph 21 of that judgment (as reported in air). in lala ram (supra), the word "entertain" was interpreted in connection with the question as to whether the entertaining of an application for leave to appeal against an order of acquittal commences only at the actual hearing of the leave application or when it is filed and received by the high court. hindustan commercial bank ltd. (supra) was rendered construing the word "entertain" in the context of order xxi rule 90 of the code of civil procedure, as amended by the allahabad high court. following the.....
Judgment:

Thottathil B. Radhakrishnan, J.

1. Is an application for renewal of a regular permit filed, beyond the time prescribed by law, along with an application for excusing the delay, eligible to be treated as an application pending consideration, for the purpose of entertaining an application for temporary permit under section 87(1)(d) of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, hereinafter referred to as the `Act'? This is the issue in this bunch of matters, referred to the Division Bench by a learned single Judge, indicating that the decision contained in Shahul Hameed v. Secretary, R.T.A [1999 (1) KLT 273] requires reconsideration.

2. Apart from the pleadings in the writ petitions, is an affidavit sworn to on 20.8.2011 on behalf of the Transport Commissioner, following the order dated 15.7.2011 calling for an affidavit touching all relevant aspects involved in these cases, through a government officer at the competent level.

3. We heard learned Advocates Sajeev Kumar K.Gopal, Saju J.Vallyara and Shalini N.C. for the writ petitioners, learned senior Government Pleader P.K.Babu, who has also submitted a note of arguments, and learned Government Pleader M.K.Aboobacker. We also had profitable assistance of Adv.P.Santhosh Kumar (Tr) as amicus curiae.

4. The petitioner's learned counsel argued that the provision in Section 87(1)(d) authorising the issuance of temporary permit pending decision on an application for the renewal of a permit is in favour of persons who can be treated as a class by themselves, that is, to say, those who have applied for renewal of permits. On this premise, it is further argued that though Section 81(2) provides that an application for renewal of regular permit shall be made not less than fifteen days before the date of its expiry, the provision in sub- section 3 of Section 81 enabling an application for renewal of a regular permit being entertained after the last date so specified, makes such an application also eligible to be treated as one pending decision for renewal of a permit for the issuance of a temporary permit under Section 87(1) of the Act. In support, different precedents wee relied on. Asgarali Nazarali Singaporewalla v. State of Bombay [AIR 1957 SC 503] was cited, to state that a legal proceeding is "pending" as soon as commenced and until it is concluded. Reference was made to M/s.Lakshmiratan Engineering Works Ltd. v. Asst. Commissioner, Sales Tax [AIR 1968 SC 488] to say that the word "entertain" means "admit to consideration". Lt.Col.S.K.Kashyap v. State of Rajasthan [AIR 1971 SC 1120] was cited to state that "pending" means that "the matter is not concluded and the court having cognizance of it can make order on matter in issue". Martin and Harris Ltd. v. VI-th Additional District Judge [(1998) 1 SCC 732] was referred, to contend that always a nice distinction is maintained between the concepts "entertaining", "filing", "instituting" etc. Reference was made to Hindusthan Commercial Bank Ltd. v. Punnu Sahu [(1971) 3 SCC 124] to point out that the word "entertain" means to "adjudicate upon" or to "proceed to consider on merits". Lala Ram v. Hari Ram [(1969) 3 SCC 173] was cited to state that the word "entertain" means "file or received by the High Court". On the basis of these precedents, it is argued on behalf of the petitioners that the word "entertain" in sub-section 3 of section 81 of the Act is to be construed to hold that a delayed application for renewal of a regular permit filed by showing good and sufficient cause for the delay, is to be treated as an application pending decision for the purpose of section 87(1)(d). Accordingly, it is pointed out that Shahul Hameed (supra) does not lay down the law correctly and that precedent calls for reconsideration.

5. The learned senior Government Pleader P.K.Babu, also relying on the affidavit sworn to on 20.8.2011 on behalf of the Transport Commissioner, argued for the position that Shahul Hameed (supra) lays down the law correctly. It is argued that the mere filing of an application for renewal of a regular permit under section 81 does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that it would be granted. He pointed out sub- section 4 of section 81 provides grounds on which an application for rejection of a permit. Relying on sub-section 2 of section 81, it is argued that it is obligatory that an application for renewal of permit is filed not less than fifteen days before the date of expiry of the permit sought to be renewed. It is argued that the provision in sub-section 3, to the effect that an application for the renewal of a regular permit may be entertained, by the Authority, after the last date specified in sub-section 2, if it is satisfied that the applicant was prevented by good and sufficient cause from making an application within the time specified, enjoins that the competent authority shall consider as to whether good or sufficient cause has been shown by the applicant, to entertain the application for renewal by excusing the delay. It is thus pointed out that when an application, which is not within the period prescribed in section 81(2), is filed with a request for it being entertained on being satisfied that the applicant was prevented by good and sufficient cause, cannot be treated as an application pending decision for the purpose of section 81(1)(d). In effect, learned senior Government Pleader P.K.Babu supported the ratio of Shahul Hameed.

6. Learned amicus curiae, quite rightly, points out that in so far as operators of stage carriages are concerned, the relevance of the question in hand is that an application for temporary permit under Section 87(1)(d) would be granted without undertaking any process of consideration by the Regional Transport Authority as to the need to grant any such temporary permit and that such applications are, in fact, granted by the Secretary, RTA. He also points out that the cause shown explaining the delay in applications which are filed not within time and seeking that it be excused are taken up, considered and decided, ordinarily in one go, along with the request for the grant of renewal.

7. Shahul Hameed (supra) was rendered holding that application for renewal of a regular permit, when not filed within the time specified, can be treated as pending consideration before the RTA only if the RTA, in exercise of authority under Section 81(3) of the Act, entertains the application after having been satisfied that the applicant was prevented by good and sufficient cause from making the application within the time specified in Section 81(2) and only then, could it be said that the application is pending. Without an application for renewal being so pending for consideration before the RTA, the question of granting temporary permit by the Secretary of the RTA under Section 87(1)(d) read with Section 88(7) of the Act does not arise.

8. As rightly pointed out by the learned counsel for the petitioners, the words "entertain" and "pending" had come up for consideration before the Apex Court and different High Courts in different contexts and under different statutes. Asgarali Nazarali (supra) was decided with reference to a provision brought by the Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1952. The question focused upon to interpret the word "pending" was intricately linked with the meaning of the expression "trial" in criminal cases. This is how the discussion proceeds in paragraph 21 of that judgment (as reported in AIR). In Lala Ram (supra), the word "entertain" was interpreted in connection with the question as to whether the entertaining of an application for leave to appeal against an order of acquittal commences only at the actual hearing of the leave application or when it is filed and received by the High Court. Hindustan Commercial Bank Ltd. (supra) was rendered construing the word "entertain" in the context of Order XXI Rule 90 of the Code of Civil Procedure, as amended by the Allahabad High Court. Following the different judgments of the High Court of Allahabad referred to in paragraph 4 of that judgment (as reported in SCC) their Lordships relied on M/s.Lakshmiratan Engineering Works Ltd. (supra) to hold that the expression "entertain" in the proviso to clause (b) of Order XXI Rule 90 (as amended by Allahabad High Court) means to "adjudicate upon" or "proceed to consider on merits" and not "initiation of proceeding". In the context of Section 21 (1)(a) of the U.P.Urban Buildings (Regulation of Letting, Rent and Eviction) Act, 1972, Martin and Harris Ltd. (supra) was decided, holding that there is clear distinction between the words "entertaining" and filing" of an application for possession under that provision and that those terms convey differently. Lt.Col.S.K.Kashyap (supra) was, again, a case rendered under the criminal laws. Asgarali Nazarali (supra) was relied on to hold that the word "pending" will ordinarily mean that the matter is not concluded and the court which has cognizance can make an order on the matter in issue and the test is whether any proceedings can be taken in the case before the court or Tribunal where it is said to be pending. It was held that until the case is concluded, it is pending. In M/s.Lakshmiratan Engineering Works Ltd. (supra), the Apex Court was considering the word "entertained" as used in section 9 of the UP Sales Tax Act. The question was as to what is the effect of the provision that an appeal shall not be entertained unless it is accompanied by statutory proof of payment of the amount of tax admitted by the appellant to be due. Dilating on this aspect, following the discussion in paragraph 7 of the said judgment (as reported in AIR), it was held that the word "entertain" in that context meant "admit to consideration". The word "entertain" was thus treated to provide that the matter would be admitted for consideration only after furnishing proof of remittance of the amount of tax and that, this situation applies, not necessarily at the filing or presentation of the appeal, but when the appeal is taken up for admission and then, statutory proof has to be furnished at the time of admission of the appeal.

9. A term or a word may be interpreted in the statute itself, for fulfilling the purport and object mentioned therein. In another statute, the same word or term may be defined differently. Interpretation of a term in one statute cannot be done with reference to its definition contained in another. - See Naresh Kumar Madan v. State of M.P., [(2007) 4 SCC 766]; Raymond Ltd. v. State of Chhattisgarh [(2007) 3 SCC 79]. The meaning assigned to a particular word in a particular statute cannot be imported to a word used in a different statute. - See Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Ltd. v. Punjab Drugs Manufacturers Assn., [(1999) 3 SCC 632].

10. When a word is not defined in an Act, it is permissible to refer to dictionaries to find out the general sense in which that word is understood in common parlance. However, in selecting one out of the various meanings of a word, regard must always be had to the context. The fundamental rule is that "the meanings of words and expressions used in an Act must take their colour from the context in which they appear." - For support, see Nagulapati Lakshmamma v. Mupparaju Subbaiah [(1998) 5 SCC 285], Bhogilal Chunilal Pandya v. State of Bombay [AIR 1959 SC 356], India Carbon Ltd. v. Superintendent of Taxes, Gauhati [(1971) 3 SCC 612], CIT., A.P. v. Taj Mahal Hotel, Secunderabad [(1971) 3 SCC 550], Commissioner of Wealth Tax, Andhra Pradesh v. Officer in Charge [(1976) 3 SCC 864], Mohinder Singh v. State of Haryana [(1989) 3 SCC 93], R.S.Nayak v. A.R.Antuley [(1984) 2 SCC 183], CIT v. J.H.Gotla Yadgiri [(1985) 4 SCC 343]. While construing a word which occurs in a statute or a statutory instrument in the absence of any definition in that very document, it must be given the same meaning which it receives in ordinary parlance or understood in the sense in which people conversant with the subject- matter of the statute or statutory instrument understand it. It is noted by the Apex Court in P.V. Indiresan (2) v. Union of India, [(2011) 8 SCC 441], that "In English language, many words have different meanings and a word can be used in more than one sense. Every dictionary gives several meanings for each word. The proper use of a dictionary lies in choosing the appropriate meaning to the word, with reference to the context in which the word is used. We cannot mechanically apply all and every meanings given in a dictionary. Nor can we choose an inappropriate meaning that the word may carry and then try to change the context in which it is used. The context in which the word is used determines the meaning of the word. A randomly chosen meaning for the word should not change the context in which the word is used. This is the fundamental principle relating to use of words to convey a thought or explain a position or describe an event." It is laid down in Saraswati Sugar Mills v. Haryana State Board, [(1992) 1 SCC 418] that construction of words and the meaning to be given for such words shall normally depend on the nature, scope and purpose of the statute in which it is occurring and to the fitness of the matter to the statute. The meaning given to the same word occurring in a social security measure or a regulating enactment may not be apposite or appropriate when the same word is interpreted with reference to a taxing statute. In S. Samuel, M.D., Harrisons Malayalam v. Union of India, [(2004) 1 SCC 256], the Apex Court relied on Principles of Statutory Interpretation by Justice G.P. Singh. Reference in Asgarali Nazarali (supra) to the inputs from Stroud's Judicial Dictionary, making reference to R.V.Grant, [(1951) 1 KB 500] and the observations in re Clagett's Estate; Fordham v. Clagett [(1882) 20 Ch. D 637] eloquently indicate that the exercise of finding the apt meaning or definition is to take into consideration the situation in which a particular word or phrase which comes up for consideration is placed. It is hazardous to interpret a word in accordance with its definition in another statute or statutory instrument and more so when such statute or statutory instrument is not dealing with any cognate subject. For support, see MSCO. (P) Ltd. v. Union of India, [(1985) 1 SCC 51], wherein Craies on Statute Law, 6th Edn., making reference to Macbeth and Co. v. Chislett: 1910 AC 220, is quoted to emphasise that in construing a word in an Act, caution is necessary in adopting the meaning ascribed to the word in other Acts and that it would be a new terror in the construction of Acts of Parliament if we were required to limit a word to an unnatural sense because in some Act which is not incorporated or referred to, such an interpretation is given to it for the purposes of that Act alone.

11. It was held in Syed Hasan Rasul Numa v. Union of India, [(1991) 1 SCC 401], that in matters of interpretation, one should not concentrate too much on one word and pay too little attention to the other words. No provision in the statute and no word in the section may be construed in isolation. Every provision and every word must be looked at generally and in the context in which it is used. Quoting Justice Frankfurter, from Wilma E. Addison v. Holly Hill Fruit Products: 322 US 607, as follows: "After all, legislation, when not expressed in technical terms, is addressed to common run of men, and is, therefore, to be understood according to sense of the thing, as the ordinary man has a right to rely on ordinary words addressed", the Apex Court noticed in Maheshwari Fish Seed Farm v. T.N. Electricity Board, [(2004) 4 SCC 705], that it is settled rule of interpretation that the words not defined in a statute are to be understood in their natural, ordinary or popular sense. In determining, therefore, whether a particular import is included within the ordinary meaning of a given word, one may have regard to the answer which everyone conversant with the word and the subject-matter of statute and to whom the legislation is addressed, will give if the problem were put to him. - See Justice G.P. Singh: Principles of Statutory Interpretation, (9th Edn., 2004).

12. Thus, it is well settled that if a word used in a statute is not defined in that statute itself, the definition clause in a different statute, which may have defined the same word for the purpose of that statute, cannot be imported to interpret or construe the said word in the statute where it is not defined. Different statutes may use the same term for different purposes. The common parlance meaning available in the dictionaries provide a field of choice. In the case of a term left undefined in the statute under interpretation, the duty of the interpreter would be to choose that which fits, plainly, situationally, objectively, contextually and in terms of the constitutional vision and doctrines emanating out of the Constitution of India which is the "Mother Statute". The nature of the legislation; the purpose of the legislation; the context of the use of the particular word; etc. are among the guiding factors as may appeal to judicial prudence. The object and purpose of the legislation which is subjected to the process of interpretation or construction, has necessarily to be taken into consideration.

13. With all the aforesaid in mind, we proceed to consider the question whether an application for renewal of a regular permit presented with a request for excusing the delay could be treated as an application "pending consideration", for the purpose of entertaining an application for temporary permit under Section 87(1)(d). Section 81 of the Act deals with the duration and renewal of permits. Among other things, it provides in sub-section (2) that a permit may be renewed on an application made not less than fifteen days before the date of its expiry. Notwithstanding anything contained in sub-section (2), sub-section (3) provides that the Regional Transport Authority or the State Transport Authority, as the case may be, may entertain an application for the renewal of a permit after the last date specified in that sub-section if it is satisfied that the applicant was prevented by good and sufficient cause from making an application within the time specified. Sub-section (4) of Section 81 enumerates different grounds on which the application for renewal may be rejected. Sub-section (5) enjoins that when a permit has been renewed under section 81, after the expiry of the period thereof, such renewal shall have effect from the date of such expiry irrespective of whether or not a temporary permit has been granted under clause (d) of section 87, and where a temporary permit has been granted, the fee paid in respect of such temporary permit shall be refunded. Section 87(1) of the Act enumerates the different situations in which a temporary permit may be granted. It provides for grant of temporary permit, inter alia, in clause (c) to meet a particular temporary need, and, in clause (d), pending decision on an application for the renewal of a permit.

14. We pause here to say that, hereinafter, 'RTA' means the Regional Transport Authority and 'Secretary' means the Secretary to RTA.

15. Now, it is apposite to advert to the affidavit sworn to on behalf of the Transport Commissioner, who is a statutory authority at the pinnacle, subject to the governments. The plea of the petitioners is rightly noticed therein. It is pointed out, among other things, that an application for renewal of permit should be filed within a period not less than 15 days before the expiry of permit, and as per Section 81(3), the authority concerned can entertain applications filed after the last date specified, notwithstanding anything contained in sub- section (2), if it is satisfied that the applicant was prevented by good and sufficient cause from making an application within the time specified. Without the RTA considering the reason for delay and deciding to entertain the application, the Secretary cannot presume that RTA will condone the delay and grant renewal of the earlier permit. Under Section 87 (1) (d) of the Act, temporary permit can be issued by the Secretary, only if an application for renewal of permit is pending decision. The Secretary cannot decide to entertain the renewal application or presume that the RTA will condone the delay.

16. Sections 81 and 87 of the Act are among the provisions brought to regulate public transport. Section 81 provides for issuance of a permit other than a temporary permit or a special permit. This class of permits are called regular permits. Sub section (1) of Section 81 provides the life span of such a permit. Sub section (2) provides that each permit may be renewed on an application made not less than 15 days before the date of its expiry. Sub section (4) authorises the authority concerned to reject an application for renewal of a permit on one or more of the grounds enumerated in that sub section. The second proviso to that sub section provides for an opportunity of pre-decisional hearing, in connection with any proposal to reject the application for renewal of a permit. If renewed, life span of the renewed permit is also provided for under sub section (5) read with sub section (1). Such renewal shall have effect from the date of such expiry, irrespective of whether or not a temporary permit has been granted under sub section (d) of Section 87. These provisions would show that the regulatory power of the State as regards the grant and issuance of regular permits is statutorily provided for and it involves a process of consideration of relevant matters, including, by affording opportunity of pre-decisional hearing in cases where that is called for in terms of the provision. The renewal of a regular permit can be done only on an application. Sub section (2) of section 81 provides that an application for renewal has to be made not less than 15 days before the date of its expiry. This is why it is provided that the permit may be renewed on an application made not less than 15 days of its expiry. As a necessary corollary, if the application is not made within such time limit, it is not eligible for being considered. Now, sub section (3) of section 81 provides that notwithstanding anything contained in sub section (2), the Authority may entertain an application for the renewal of a permit after the last date specified in that sub section, if it is satisfied that the applicant was prevented by good and sufficient cause from making an application within the time specified. This calls for the application for renewal of permit which is beyond the time prescribed, to be accompanied by the showing of the cause, by the applicant, as to what according to him is good and sufficient cause which prevented him from making the application within the time specified in sub section (2). In our view, the applicant has to file an application to excuse the delay, supported by affidavit explaining sufficient cause. These cannot be treated as "run- of-the-mill" matters. It is for the authority concerned to be satisfied that the applicant was prevented by good and sufficient cause. Therefore, the acceptance of what is offered by the applicant, as good and sufficient cause, is a matter for evaluation and acceptance by the authority, which, obviously, includes the decision making process as to whether the application which is not filed within the time specified is to be entertained. But for sub section (3), there is no room for any consideration of an application which is not filed within the time specified in sub section (2). The decision on the question whether the application filed after the time specified, has to be entertained is an independent matter and the said decision would rest on the finding as to whether the applicant was prevented by good and sufficient cause and the resultant view of the authority concerned. It is only after that, would the application for renewal, filed beyond the time specified, become eligible for consideration on grounds referable to sub section (3) of section 81. If the authority concerned does not find good and sufficient cause, the application for renewal would fall as one filed beyond the time specified and would be liable to be rejected. In this view of the matter, it is only the condonation of delay in terms of sub section (3) of section 81 that would make a delayed application eligible for consideration for renewal of permit. Therefore, in cases of any delayed application for renewal of permit, that can be treated as entertained in terms of sub sections (1) and (2) only upon the entertainment of that application following the authority concerned, being satisfied that the applicant was prevented by good and sufficient cause from making the application within the time specified. It is the result of the decision in that regard that would lead to the entertainment of the application for the purpose of section 81, which is a regulatory provision. So much so, only after entertaining an application could it be said that the said application is pending decision. The provision in section 87(1)(d) that the grant of a temporary permit pending decision on an application for the renewal of a permit would apply only to applications for regular permits which are filed within the time specified as per sub section (2) of section 81 or upon the decision by the authority concerned to entertain delayed applications by holding that the applicant was prevented by sufficient and good cause. Here, learned amicus curiae, rightly points out that as a matter of practice, different authorities would consider the question of condonation of delay and the eligibility of the applicant for grant of permit in one go. If that be so, obviously, until that event happens, temporary permits cannot be granted on the basis of such an application on a ground referable to section 87(1)(d).

17. For the reasons stated above, we are in complete agreement with the ratio dicidendi of Shahul Hameed (supra). We accordingly, affirm that view. The applications for temporary permit filed invoking Section 87(1)(d) shall be considered only in cases where the applications for renewal of permit are filed within the period prescribed in Section 81 and in cases where the applications for renewal are filed out of time, the applications for temporary permit under Section 87 (1)(d) shall be considered only after the RTA or the STA, as the case may be, entertains such applications for renewal on being satisfied that the applicant was prevented by good and sufficient cause from making the application for renewal within the time specified.

In the result, these writ petitions are ordered directing that consideration of the application for temporary permits filed by the petitioners and kept pending shall be dealt with only in the light of what is stated herein.


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