Malhotra's 2009 Model Ambassador with Senkoe's Art
Malhotra's 2009 Model Ambassador with Senkoe's Art
Litigation News

Punjab & Haryana HC comes to aid of Ambassador owner after Mexican street artist's graffiti on "White" car creates registration trouble

A 2009 Ambassador with Mexican street artist Senkoe’s graffiti was initially denied registration for the reason that its colour had changed from White to Multicolour.

Lydia Suzanne Thomas

The owner of a 2009 model Ambassador adorned with Mexican street artist Senkoe’s graffiti was granted relief today by the Punjab & Haryana High Court, which directed the authorities to initiate the vehicle’s registration within two weeks (Ranjit Malhotra v. Chandigarh Administration).

The vehicle, painted over with Senkoe’s art, was purchased by the petitioner Ranjit Malhotra from an official of the European Union working in Delhi.

Senkoe's Street Art
Senkoe's Street Art

Malhotra’s primary reason for purchasing the vehicle was the art work, he submitted to the Court.

The car, shipped from Delhi to Chandigarh, was granted a No-Objection Certificate from the Delhi transport authority. However, when Malhotra sought to register the vehicle in Chandigarh, the Registering Authority objected to the same, since the vehicle varied with the manufacturer's original specifications for the automobile.

The vehicle’s colour was described as white in the car’s original certificate of registration, whereas the automobile is presently “multi-colour”, the authority reportedly stated. Malhotra’s application had recorded the vehicle’s colour as white, the judgment records the authority as stating.

Despite Malhotra's repeated requests, the authority refused to register the painted Ambassador.

Malhotra then moved the High Court through Senior Advocate Puneet Bali with Advocates Vibhav Jain, Satyam Aneja, Arun Gupta, Mriganki Nagpal, and RP Saini Advocates.

The Chandigarh administration, represented by Senior Standing Counsel Pankaj Jain, argued that the writ petition was “premature” because Malhotra’s application for registration had not yet been rejected.

A Single Judge Bench of Justice Jaishree Thakur rejected this contention, given that a “categoric objection” to the registration of the vehicle had already been made by the registering authority and that the petitioner’s representations had gone unheeded.

"Once the authorities abdicate from doing their duty, a writ of mandamus would be maintainable", Justice Thakur observed.

When deciding the question of whether the change of the vehicle’s colour from white to “multi-colour” would affect its prospective registration, Justice Thakur relied on Sections 45 and 52 of the Motor Vehicles Act as well as the Supreme Court’s ruling in Regional Transport Officer and others v. K Jayachandra and Another.

Finding that vehicle registration could be objected to if the vehicle is stolen, mechanically defective, or fails to comply with statutory requirements, the Court accepted that the vehicle did not suffer from any of those listed criteria.

Moreover, an ‘alteration’ for the purposes of the Motor Vehicles Act is one that is at variance with features specified by the manufacture and which is a structural-change that alters a ‘basic feature’, the Court noted, relying on the Jayachandra case. The Court proceeded to note,

"Any person who drives upon the GT Road will see slogans, quotations, colourful paint job, done on back /front of the trucks that ply on the road from Jammu and Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Some of the standard ones are 'OK TATA', 'Horn Please' 'Hum Do Hamare Do', 'Mera Bharat Mahaan', 'Use Dipper at Night”'etc."
Truck Art
Truck Art

Justice Thakur added,

"The trucks are beautifully decorated with artwork done one some panel or the other. Apart from that, cars too are plying with stickers plastered all over them of various countries that the owners have travelled to… Apart from this, advertisements are seen painted upon buses, but such paint job again would not imply that either the basic colour of the vehicle has been changed, or it has been altered in any fashion."

The Court, therefore, rejected the respondent’s submissions and declared the car as coloured ‘white’, reasoning that,

“... there is no change in the base colour of the car which remains white… any reasonable person can easily make out that a white car had some art work done upon it.”
Justice Thakur

Directing the Chandigarh administration to register the vehicle within two weeks, the Court observed,

"The reason for denying registration merely on the ground that there is art work done on the body of the vehicle, where the base remains white, defies logic. The Inspector (from the Registering Authority) has acted in an arbitrary and wholly whimsical manner, causing undue harassment to the petitioner."

Read the Judgment here:

Ranjit Malhotra v. Union Territory, Chandigarh - Judgment - dated July 14, 2020.pdf
Bar and Bench - Indian Legal news