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The Bombay High Court on Wednesday set aside a Maharashtra government order that made speaking of Marathi compulsory for applicants seeking auto-rickshaw permits. Calling the condition “completely illegal”, the court said applicants should not be disqualified based on this. A division bench of Justices A S Oka and Anuja Prabhudessai gave the ruling while hearing a petition filed by the Bhiwandi City Rickshaw-Taxi Chalak Malak Sangathan along with other auto and taxi unions. These unions had challenged the Marathi language norm according to a circular by the government to Regional Transport Offices in 2016.
The court pointed out that the state did not have the power to impose such a requirement on auto drivers under the existing rules as autos fall under the category of motor cabs which have been exempted from the requirement of having knowledge of Marathi for issuing permits. Under the existing rules, only public service vehicles have to conform to such a condition.
Rejecting the state government’s argument that they had imposed such a condition in the interest of the public, Justice Oka said, “There are specific provisions in the Motor Vehicles Act allowing the state to enforce such a condition. Nothing prevented the state from exercising its rule-making power but by giving excuse of public interest, the state cannot circumvent rules of the Motor Vehicles Act.”
The judge said: “In these circumstances, the challenge of the petitioners to the requirement of having speaking knowledge of Marathi will have to be upheld as that state has no power under the Motor Vehicles Act or the Maharashtra rules to impose the said condition.” Meanwhile, in terms of ensuring that passengers travelling in autos have a proper grievance redress mechanism to register complaints, the High Court issued directions which include that such complaints be forwarded to the police immediately for them to take action.
The state government submitted an affidavit indicating the action taken by them against errant auto drivers.
The court, however, said that the report showed that hardly any action had been launched by the transport department. “The state government should create a grievance redress mechanism for registering complaints against motor cabs, specifically autos, to enable passengers to register complaint via WhatsApp, SMS, e-mail. A provision should be there to inform the local police…. Considering available modern devices, the state can evolve a way by which the complaint can be attended immediately by the police,” said the High Court.