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NGT National Green Tribunal
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Motor vehicles not complying with requirement of PUC certificate cannot be debarred from being supplied fuel: Supreme Court

Since the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act and Rules do not provide for such penal action, the NGT could not have directed the State to bar defaulting vehicles from fuel supply, the Court held.

Shruti Mahajan

The Supreme Court has held that the National Green Tribunal (NGT) does not have the jurisdiction to direct a state to issue orders to bar vehicles that flout pollution under control (PUC) requirements from being supplied fuel (State of Madhya Pradesh v. Centre for Environment Protection Research and Development).

A Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Indira Banerjee held that while the NGT has the power and jurisiction to direct state governments to strictly ensure compliance of various laws enacted for the protection of the environment, in cases of vehicles flouting PUC norms, states cannot be directed to issue orders that prevent fuel supply to such vehicles.

While deciding an appeal preferred by the Madhya Pradesh government against an order of the NGT, the Apex Court held,

"There can be no doubt that strong measures must be taken to protect the environment and improve the air quality whenever there is contravention of statutory rules causing environmental pollution. Stringent action has to be taken, but in accordance with law."

The appeal was mounted against an order of the NGT's Central Zone Bench at Bhopal, by which the State of Madhya Pradesh was directed to strictly enforce the requirement of vehicles to display a valid PUC certificate, failing which strict consequences would follow. These consequences included cancellation of the vehicle's registration. Additionally, fuel supply dealers could be directed to refuse providing fuel to such vehicles.

The State was also directed to make a security deposit of Rs 25 crore to ensure compliance of the NGT's order. This order was assailed before the Supreme Court.

Partly allowing the appeal, the Supreme Court delved into the jurisdiction of the NGT vis-a-vis the Motor Vehicles Act. The appeal raised three questions before the Apex Court:

  • Whether the NGT could have directed the state government to issue orders to petrol pumps or retail outlets or dealers not to supply fuel to vehicles not having a valid PUC.

  • Whether motor vehicles not complying with the requirement of displaying a valid PUC Certificate can be debarred from being provided with fuel by any dealer/or petrol pump or outlet.

  • Whether a Tribunal constituted under the Green Tribunal Act, 2010 could have passed orders directing the state government to make a monetary deposit to secure compliance of an order.

Keeping in view that the issue relates squarely to air pollution caused on account of vehicular emission, the Court examined the scope of the Environment Protection Act of 1986 which empowers the Central government to take measures to curb air pollution and lay down standards of emissions.

The Court also noted that the Rules laid down in 1989 under the Motor Vehicles Act also contemplate provisions laying down the standard of emission and discharge of air pollutants from vehicles, as also PUC certification for vehicles.

The Court held that while the NGT can settle disputes and decide questions relating to environment, such questions must emanate from implementation of the enactments listed in Schedule I, where the Motor Vehicles Act finds no mention.

However, the Rules under the MV Act cast a statuotry obligation on manufacturers and owners of motor vehicles to abide by certain environmental obligations. This would make the questions before the Tribunal in the instant case substantial questions related to the environment, the Supreme Court said.

It is these Rules under the MV Act that make it mandatory for vehicle owners to have PUC certification, failing which strict penal action may be taken. As such, the NGT has the power to direct the State to strictly enforce this requirement and implement penal action against defaulters, the judgment says. The punishment may entail temporary suspension of licence or registration, fine, temporary disqualification from holding licence, or imprisonment.

Since the statutory provisions do not provide for any other penal action, the NGT could not have exercised its jurisdiction to direct the State to issue orders against fuel supply to defaulting vehicles, the judgment says.

"It is well settled that when a Statute or a Statutory Rules prescribed a penalty for any act or omission, no other penalty not contemplated in the Statute or a Statutory Rules can be imposed. It is well settled that when Statute requires a thing to be done in a particular manner, it is to be done only in that manner...

...the Tribunal had no power and/or authority and/or jurisdiction to pass orders directing the Appellant State Government to issue ordersto dealers, outlets and petrol pumps not to supply fuel to vehicles without PUC Certificate."

As regards question of monetary deposit to ensure compliance with the order, the Court held that the NGT can impose fine for non-compliance of orders or contravention of statutory provisions. None of the provisions, however, provide for directing deposits to be made to secure compliance with an order. Therefore, the judgment says,

"The learned Tribunal had no power and/or authority and/or jurisdiction to direct the appellant State to deposit Rs.25 crores to secure compliance with its order."

Having made these observations, the Court set aside the order of the Tribunal and directed the State of Madhya Pradesh to strictly enforce the penal provisions to punish those found flouting PUC certificate norms. The Court directed,

"The Registration Certificate of vehicles which do not possess a valid PUC Certificate shall be forthwith suspended and/or cancelled, and penal measures initiated against the owner and/or the person(s) in possession and/or control of the offending vehicle, in accordance with law."

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