The Bombay High Court Monday sought a response from the Maharashtra government within a week about its intention to take a final decision regarding granting licences to two-wheelers or bike taxi aggregators.
The high court was hearing a plea by a bike taxi aggregator challenging the refusal by the state government, through a notification issued on December 29, 2022, to grant licenses to entities like it.
Senior advocate Aspi Chinoy, appearing for the petitioner, claimed the state government’s refusal was contrary to the declared policy of the Union Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. Chinoy said the central policy, which is entirely applicable in Maharashtra, specifically contemplated the aggregator using a motorcycle and competent authority is required to grant or renew the license after being satisfied with compliance with stipulated conditions.
The court noted the central policy allowed the aggregation of non-transport vehicles by aggregators. “Therefore, if two-wheelers are said to be not transport vehicles, they are nonetheless allowed to be used for aggregation purposes,” it said.
The bench further noted the Maharashtra Government’s notification said that at the present stage, there is no state policy on licensing of bike taxis and there is no fare structure policy for them. It said the reasons given to justify the state’s notification were not convincing. It observed that while the notification claimed the private vehicles violated provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, the central policy itself contemplated the use of non-transport vehicles for aggregators.
“Lack of policy is hardly an answer,” the bench noted. “The ultimate decision (by state) then says that there is no such scheme of a bike taxi and there is no fare structure policy in place and says that various rules are not complete, and so on. These reasons in the impugned decision are less than persuasive at this stage,” the bench observed.
It also noted, “We understand that the State Government may need some time to formulate a policy. But it is certainly not entirely out of contemplation and cannot be that until a final policy is formulated a temporary or pro-tem working arrangement can be made perhaps even on a without prejudice basis. Nobody seems to have applied their mind to the evident advantages from various perspectives including reducing traffic congestion, pollution reduction and efficiency in transport by allowing bike rider systems.”
Justice Patel said, “We expect that these will be made subject to certain safety requirements that must be followed but that is hardly a reason for rejecting the entire proposal in this fashion. Outside Mumbai, and in fact, even in the northern suburbs of Mumbai, two-wheeler transport is by far the norm and is a matter of great convenience. We see no reason why the Government should not seriously consider the proposal.”
Seeking a response from the state government on bike taxis within a week, the bench also asked it to indicate which transitional provisions it proposed to make for the said decision and the duration required for the same.
Chinoy submitted that another aggregator, which provides the exact same services as the petitioner, has obtained status-quo order from the Supreme Court and the said aggregator has not been stopped by the state authorities.
“If that is in fact so and we permit Chinoy to file a further affidavit in regard to that fact, we do not see how the impugned decision can be selectively applied in this fashion. In another manner of speaking, if the Petitioner was providing exactly the same service as the aggregator before the Supreme Court on 21st April 2022, then the status-quo order passed by the Supreme Court must obviously extend to the petitioner as well,” said the court.
Seeking another affidavit by the petitioner on January 4 and a response by the state government, the bench posted the further hearing to January 10.