The Madras High Court has recently directed the removal of portraits and photographs of political or communal leaders pasted on vehicles (V Ramesh v. The Vice-Chancellor, Dr. Ambedkar Law University, and ors)
The order was passed by a Bench of Justice N Kirubakaran (now retired) and Justice B Pugalendhi in view of concerns that such a practice is generally resorted to in order to intimidate the police. The Bench opined that the purpose of having such photographs, political party flags, designation boards, and even advocate and press stickers are "only to keep away the police from stopping the vehicle even in case of violation of road rules."
The Court, therefore, proceeded to order the authorities to instruct vehicle owners to "remove the portraits/photos which have been fixed on the dashboard facing outside" within sixty days, failing which the authorities have to remove the same and fine errant owners. Fixing of flags, whatever may be the nature of the flags including party flags, organization flags, etc., are not authorized by the law and rules, the Court said. Therefore, they are illegal, the Bench added. The Court took on record a submission by the Director-General of Police that the fitting of such flags etc. was meant to deter the police from vehicle checks and from performing their duties.
Against this backdrop, the Bench also opined that there is a prohibition on such use of stickers of any kind on a vehicle under Section 177 of the Motor Vehicles Act (dealing with wilful disobedience of any direction lawfully given by any person or authority). The Bench also called on the police to conduct vehicle checks irrespective of party flags, photos of leaders, advocate or press stickers, etc. The Court, however, observed, in the passing, that it is understandable if political flags and photos are exhibited on vehicles during election season.
The order was passed in public interest litigation (PIL) petition against the misuse of advocate stickers. During earlier hearings, the Court had questioned whether there should be a ban on advocate stickers if they are being misused to evade the law. In the final order passed on August 19, however, the Court confined to observing that advocate stickers are prone to misuse but refrained from issuing any directions on this aspect. However, other issues concerning road safety were dealt with and the following directions were issued: The Transport authorities must check whether lights fixed on vehicles are in accordance with the rules at the time of registration of the vehicle or at the time of issuance of the Fitness Certificate.
The Police should randomly conduct vehicle checks to ensure that lights are fixed only as per the rules. If found they are found to be in violation of the rules, the vehicles should be seized or the lights should be removed. These directions were passed in view of concern that there are several vehicles with high-beam or unauthorized LED lights which pose risks to road safety. The fixing of high beam lights should be prohibited, the Court has opined. The Bench has also commented that life is more precious than ornamental lights that would not serve any other purpose.
The Director-General of Police, Home Secretary, and Transport Secretary are to instruct the owners of vehicles to remove tinted glasses within 60 days, failing which the authorities shall seize the vehicles. The Court noted that despite the Supreme Court's bar imposed via the ruling in Avishek Goenka v. UOI many vehicles including the Government vehicles are having tinted glasses which is nothing but a violation of the order passed by the Hon'ble Supreme Court."The authorities are to direct the owners of the vehicles to fix number plates as per the size prescribed in the Motor Vehicle Rules within 60 days.
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) has been directed to install high mast lights wherever it has not been erected and to carry out repair work in places where it is not properly functioning, at the earliest. An additional concern flagged by the Court pertained to the planting of trees or greenery on highway medians. The Court opined that the NHAI cannot shirk from its responsibility to maintain median plantations, more so considering that the world is now facing global warming due to deforestation.