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The background and the material facts that led to the present matter are that on 16th March, 1973, the Haryana Government, through a notification (hereinafter also referred to as the “impugned notification”), amended the Punjab Motor Vehicles Rules, 1940 by adding clause (d) to sub-rule (2) of Rule 10.2.
By way of this amendment, the General Manager (hereinafter also referred to as the “GM”) of Haryana Roadways acquired powers that were held by a Deputy Superintendent of Police (hereinafter also referred to as the “DSP”).
On account of this, the Appellant filed a Writ Petition 1770 of 1978before the Hon’ble High Court of Punjab and Haryana and called into question the validity of the impugned notification. The said Writ Petition was dismissed by the Hon’ble High Court of Punjab and Haryana at the threshold.
Consequently, the Appellant preferred the present civil appeal before the Apex Court being dissatisfied with the decision of the High Court.
Apex Court decided to deliver a common judgment for the present civil appeal and several other writ petitions filed under Article 32 of the Constitution of India before the Apex Court involving a common question and challenging thevalidity of the impugned notification.
WHAT WAS IN DISPUTE
In a nutshell the Apex Court delved into the following issue:
Whether the impugned notification dated 16th March, 1973 which conferred powers of a Deputy Superintendent of Policeon the General Manager, Haryana Roadways is valid or not?
- Constitution of India
- Article 19(1)(g)
- Motor Vehicles Act, 1939
- Section 129
- Section 129-A
- Section 133-A
- Punjab Motor Vehicles Rules, 1940
- Rule 10.2
The present matter centres around the issue of determining the validity of the the notification issued by the Haryana Government dated 16th March, 1973 which empowers the GM of Haryana Roadways to exercise the powers held by a DSP considering the fact that Haryana Roadways is a government department that is involved in the business of providing passenger transport and is a direct competitor of the private players in the market such as the Appellant and the Petitioners who also provide motor transportation.
The Motor Vehicles Act of 1939 (hereinafter also referred to as the “MV Act, 1939”) and the Punjab Motor Vehicles Rules of 1940 (hereinafter also referred to as the “PMV Rules, 1940”) are laws that ought be followed by every operator of motor vehicle in the State of Haryana, including Haryana Roadways. The Appellant and the Petitioners contended that it cannot be reasonably presumed that the GM of the Haryana Roadways, who is personally responsible for conforming to the stipulations of the MV Act, 1939 and the PMV Rules, 1940 would be devoid of bias while discharging his functions.
By virtue of Section 129 and Section 129-A of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1939, the GM of Haryana Roadways, subsequent to the impugned notification,obtained the powers of inspecting, searching, seizing and detaining any false document in possession of the driver or the owner of a motor vehicle or any motor vehicle if the use of such motor vehicle is in contravention of the provisions of the MV Act, 1939. In addition to that, the GM of the Haryana Roadways can lodge prosecution before a competent Magistrate subsequent to such seizure or detention. All these powers of inspection, search and seizure, detention etc. of motor vehicles seriously obstruct the fundamental right of private playersto freely carry out a business under Article 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution. Therefore, it is imperative that such rights be exercised reasonably and properly keeping in mind the welfare of the public.
Being a competitor of the private operators in the State of Haryana’s motor transport industry, the GM of Haryana Roadways in this case cannot be expected to carry out his obligations in a just and reasonable manner. It is safe to say that the GM of Haryana Roadways will be engulfed in a conflict of interest while carrying out his responsibilities on the one hand and ensuring the prosperity and profitability of his department on the other. This predicament raises the possibility of prejudice on the part of the GM of Haryana Roadways, who is potentially likely to be overly clement when examining the vehicles of his own department and harsh towards other motor vehicle operators in the State of Haryana.In such a scenario, there is likelihood of departmental or institutional bias and only natural for the General Manager to be unconsciously biased whilst carrying out his functions and duties.
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Nemo judex in causa suameans that no one can be a judge in his own case. In situations where an adjudicator is confronted with a dilemma and is coerced to decide between carrying out his duties and serving his own interests,it is incumbent on the adjudicator to recuse himself from such a case so that principles of impartiality and fairness are not compromised.
In Crawford Bayley the Apex Court asserted that the Doctrine of Rule Against Bias is applicable in situations where the adjudicator has a personal connection or interest in the matter concerned. Rule Against Bias ensures fairness in proceedings. Cases of departmental bias are actuated by a psychological interest that is more compelling than a mere pecuniary interest.In the present matter, the General Manager, Haryana Roadways had a psychological and personal interest in the transportation business as he himself is a crucial competitor of the private players such as the Appellant and the Petitioner who are operating in the same industry. In GullapalliNageswara Rao v. A.P. State Road Transport Corpn. the Apex Court explained that the authority empowered to decide the matter must not be prejudiced towards either of the parties and it is fundamentally important for the person interested in either of the parties to not be a part of the administrative proceedings.
DECISION OF THE COURT AND CONCLUSION
The Apex Court concurred with the contention of the Appellant and the Petitioners that the powers of investigation, search, seizure, detention etc. vested upon the GM of the Haryana Roadways unreasonably restricted the fundamental right of private motor vehicle operators under Article 19(1)(g) of the Indian Constitution. Such powers can only be construed as reasonable restrictions when they are devoid of any bias whatsoever and are exercised in a fair manner for the good of the public at large. The Apex Court opined that GM of the Haryana Roadways is unlikely to exercise his duties and functions reasonably and fairly because an impeded operation of motor vehicles owned by private players in State of Haryana would have a detrimental impact on the revenue generated by the Haryana Roadways. Therefore, the General Manager can be expected to be stringent in seizing and detaining the motor vehicles of private operators and extremely benevolent in carrying out inspection of the motor vehicles belonging to Haryana Roadways. In view of this, the Apex Court expressed that the intent of the Legislature behind Section 133-A of the MV Act, 1939 could not have been that a person responsible for operating motor transport and being under a duty to comply with the provisions of the MV Act, 1939 would also have the authority of carrying out inspection and investigation for the purpose of enforcing the said Act.
In view of this, The Apex Court held that the defense of the rule of necessity could not be claimed in the present case as there was no compelling need to appoint the General Manager of the Haryana Roadways as an officer having powers exercisable by a DSP. The GM of Haryana Roadways being a direct competitor of the private players involved in motor transportation had a personal interest in the business of motor transport operating in the State of Haryana. The Apex Court laid emphasis on the importance of impartial administration and asserted that public faith in the administration process is undermined when bias is prevalent.
Consequently, the Apex Court held the impugned notification dated 16th March, 1973 to be invalid and quashed the same.
Author: Sonakshi Pandey, Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA, in case of any queries please contact/write back to us via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or at Khurana & Khurana, Advocates and IP Attorney.
- Agarwal, H. (2022). Preconceived Notion of Bias Is Not a Good Sign for the Growth of Administrative Law in India: Recusal of Judges. Issue 6 Indian JL & Legal Rsch., 4, 1.
- Crawford Bayley & Co. v. Union of India, (2006) 6 SCC 25
- GullapalliNageswara Rao v. A.P. State Road Transport Corpn., 1959 Supp (1) SCR 319
- Krishna Bus Service (P) Ltd. v. State of Haryana, (1985) 3 SCC 711
- Rajasingham, S. (2016). Reforming the Rule against Bias in Administrative Law. CALJ, 3, 28.
- RN, R. K. (2020). Nature and evolution of rule against bias under Indian administrative law jurisprudence. Juscholars Journal, 1(7), 26-33.
- Schwartz, B. (1949). Departmental Bias in England-The Stevenage Case. African LJ, 66, 197.
Agarwal, H. (2022). Preconceived Notion of Bias Is Not a Good Sign for the Growth of Administrative Law in India: Recusal of Judges. Issue 6 Indian JL & Legal Rsch., 4, 1.
 Crawford Bayley & Co. v. Union of India, (2006) 6 SCC 25
Rajasingham, S. (2016). Reforming the Rule against Bias in Administrative Law. CALJ, 3, 28.
Schwartz, B. (1949). Departmental Bias in England-The Stevenage Case. S. African LJ, 66, 197.
GullapalliNageswara Rao v. A.P. State Road Transport Corpn., 1959 Supp (1) SCR 319
RN, R. K. (2020). Nature and evolution of rule against bias under Indian administrative law jurisprudence. Juscholars Journal, 1(7), 26-33.