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Alterations cannot be made to Motor Vehicles in violation of Motor Vehicles Act, Supreme Court

Alterations cannot be made to Motor Vehicles in violation of Motor Vehicles Act, Supreme Court

Shruti Mahajan

No alterations can be made to a motor vehicle that does not conform to the requirements under Section 52 of the Motor vehicles Act, 1988 (Act), the Supreme Court held today.

While ruling so, the Court also clarified that Rules framed in addition to an Act are subservient to the Act and must be interpreted to serve the legislative intent of the Act and not in a way that goes against the object of the Act itself.

In the judgment passed by the Bench of Justices Arun Mishra and Vineet Saran, the Court set aside the decision of the Kerala High Court’s Division Bench that had held that alterations to motor vehicles are not completely prohibited and are allowed under the Motor Vehicles Rules.

The Court was considering the sole question of permissible alteration to motor vehicles in view of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 along with the Kerala Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989.

Factual Matrix

Pursuant to these legislations, the Kerala government had issued a Circular specifying that the Registering Authorities must not issue a certificate of registration to those vehicles that are built or modified in violation of the prototypes set.

Based on the circular, a number of vehicles in the State of Kerala were denied registration on account of having dimensions different than those specified. This led to several vehicle owners filing Writ petitions in Kerala High Court against such denial.

The decisions rendered by Single Judge Benches of the High Court in two different cases were contrary to each other. While one decision stated that the Regional Transport Authority’s powers to “intelligently exercise their discretion” cannot be “fettered”, another stated that “derogation of a prototype cannot be approved.”

In light of the conflicting judgments in various Writ petitions, the matter was referred to a Division Bench wherein the High Court passed a common judgment to answer the question. The Division Bench held that “structural alteration is permissible as per the provisions of the Kerala Rules.”

Appeal before the Supreme Court and the Verdict

The Supreme Court considered the definition, amendments and scope and object of Section 52 of the Motor Vehicles Act which deals with the alteration to motor vehicles. The Court noted that the Section is worded in a way so as to prohibit alteration of vehicles in any manner.

“It is apparent that section 52 has been amended with the purpose to prohibit alteration of vehicles in any manner including change of tyres of higher capacity, keeping in view road safety and protection of environment.”

Rules 126 and 93 of the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 which deal with prototype and dimensions of every vehicle respectively were also examined by the Court. Specific relevant provisions from the Kerala Motor Vehicles Rules were also looked into.

The Court heard Amicus Curiae in the case, KV Viswanathan and Additional Solicitor General Aman Lekhi, appearing for the Ministry of Transport, both of whom submitted that the High Court erred in its interpretation of Section 52 of the Motor Vehicles  Act.

The Court held that the interpretation of Rules should be done in such a manner so as to support the intent of the Act.

“The Court should give an interpretation of the Rules which would serve the legislative intent and the object of framing such Rules, in preference to the one which would defeat the very purpose of enacting the Rules as well as undermining the public safety and interest.”

The Court placed reliance on its earlier judgment on a similar question to state that the suffering of one person as regards the rules of dimensions of vehicles must give way to larger public interest.

“Rules deal in minute details with the construction and maintenance of the vehicle. Rules also deal with the safety of other users on the road. If some individual interest is likely to suffer, such individual interest must give way to the larger public interest.”

On the specific point of permissible changes that can be made to vehicles, the Court held that the changes permitted under the Rules can be made subject to the exemptions imposed by Section 52 of the Motor Vehicles Act while stating that Rules are subservient to the Act. The Division Bench did not lay down the law correctly as it emphasized on the Rules, the Court held.

“In our considered opinion the Division Bench in the impugned judgment of the High Court of Kerala has failed to give effect to the provisions contained in section 52(1) and has emphasized only on the Rules. As such, the decision rendered by the Division Bench cannot be said to be laying down the law correctly. The Rules are subservient to the provisions of the Act.”

The Supreme Court, therefore, set aside the Kerala High Court’s judgment in this regard and allowed the appeals filed by the State.