The Bombay High Court on Wednesday held as illegal a circular by the Maharashtra government mandating knowledge of Marathi language as one of the pre-conditions for getting a new autorickshaw permit in the state.
A division bench of justices A S Oka and Anuja Prabhudessai passed the order on a petition filed by Mira Bhayander Auto Rickshaw Chalak Sangathan, a union of rickshaw drivers from neighbouring Mira Bhayander area.
In early 2016, the state government had issued the circular to all Regional Transport Offices (RTOs) stating that henceforth, new autorickshaw permits would be given only to those applicants having knowledge of Marathi, though existing permit-holders were exempted.
The applicants would be given a test including asking them read 10 paras in Marathi to ascertain their knowledge and understanding of the state language.
Several unions had moved the court terming the circular as unfair and wrong as it deprived others of an opportunity to get autorickshaw permits.
The state government had claimed that it had sought only a basic knowledge of Marathi to apply for an autorickshaw permit.
Upholding the petitioners' contentions, the high court quashed the circular on grounds that there is no such provision in the Motor Vehicles Act.
"If an applicant for permit does not fulfil the condition of having knowledge of Marathi, then his application cannot be disqualified," the bench ruled.
The court said the government has the power to make rules, but it cannot introduce them through a circular.
Mumbai has more than 200,000 autorickshaw drivers, a majority of whom hail from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, besides other states, and have little or no knowledge of Marathi.
The petitioners argued that imposing this condition for issuing 'badges' to auto rickshaw drivers was still understandable, but it did not make sense for auto rickshaw permits, because in many cases the rickshaw owner rents out the vehicle to others.
The bench accepted this argument, saying, "Prima facie this condition cannot be applied while issuing permits. It is illegal and not correct."
The court also asked the government to devise a grievance redressal mechanism to deal with complaints of rude behaviour of auto-rickshaw drivers or refusal to take the passenger where he or she wants to go.
There should be a call centre, a WhatsApp number and an e-mail account where passengers can file a complaint, said the court.
The government was asked to file an affidavit on compliance of the order by May 3. The bench also asked the petitioner union to file an affidavit about the steps it has taken to ensure that their members follow the rules and do not misbehave with passengers.