In Golaknath versus State of Punjab, the then Chief Justice Subba Rao first invoked the doctrine of prospective overruling. He did so to prevent chaotic situation that would have been brought about by the sudden withdrawal of 17th amendment act, legality of which had been challenged. The enforcement of the judgement with ‘retrospective’ effect would have severely challenged the land reforms and would have led to plethora of legislation. So court devised the way out by evoking the idea of prospective overruling.

The Supreme Court in its September 2015 judgment, held that the proviso to section 113 of the Income-tax Act, 1961 (the Act) levying a surcharge on undisclosed income had a prospective effect as Parliament specifically chose to make the proviso effective from 1 June, 2002. The court held that imposing a retrospective levy on the taxpayer would have caused undue hardship. Indeed it would have been like the implementation of 30 April order (of the apex court banning diesel taxi in NCR region) with retrospective effect. It will cause same “undue hardships” to thousands of taxi drivers in national capital regions (NCR) with diesel cars.

Representational image. ReutersRepresentational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

On 30 April, the apex court refused to extend the 30 April deadline given diesel taxis owners, to switch to CNG. Passing the order, the apex court said that it was way back in 1998 that the Supreme Court had ordered that commercial passenger vehicles must run on CNG. So why did they bought diesel cars.”We can’t keep extending deadlines”, the bench held.

The apex court, on 16 December last year, had barred registration of cars and vehicles with engine capacity of 2000 cc and above till 31 March.

Mohit Kumar who drives a WagonR for Ola is busy taking calls as he drives from Safdarjung to Mayur Vihar Phase 1. On being told not to take calls while driving, he starts talking about his problem. “Sir, the court have banned all diesel-run taxis from plying in the NCR region. The WagonR I am driving has CNG fuel. However I have two other cars that is Swift Dzire and Mahindra Xylo, which cannot now run in NCR now. They both are diesel cars.

He adds, “The problem is that I bought both the cars on loan and have to pay its instalments. How will I do it. I have asked some friends in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh if they can help me getting it registered with a travel agency there. I am getting calls in that respect only”.

The bench comprising chief justice TS Thakur and Justices AK Sikri and R Banumathi will hear the case again now on 9 May that will include pleas from various parties including automobile giants like Mercedes, Toyota, Mahindra and General Motors for allowing registration of big diesel cars and SUVs.

While the court has its own reasons, the taxi drivers are in fix as they are trouble with the prospects of failing to pay their instalments, as most of them have taken hefty loans from banks to buy their cars.

Virendar, 33,who had a secure job of a driver with high ranking official of a corporate firm , left it some 9 months ago as he wanted to do his own work. After leaving the job he got a Swift Dzire financed by a bank and started working for Uber. Working for Uber earned him well and he could easily pay the instalment of around Rs 12000 to the bank.

“I use to earn around Rs 2500-3000 a day. It was managing my finances well. It was only some five months ago that I got to know about some problem with diesel cars and some court case. But our company ensured that it will be taken care of,” says Virendar.

He adds, in a tone that just reflects helplessness, “And now suddenly I was told that I cannot drive my car in NCR. I am clueless what to do”.

While it is true that it was way back in 1998 that the Supreme Court had ordered that commercial passenger vehicles must run on CNG, expecting a semi-literate taxi drivers to know about the court judgement is too much an expectation.

Most of the taxi drivers that Firstpost spoke to had no idea of the case that culminated into the banning of the diesel taxi in the city. How would they know, neither did the bank that financed them told them so, nor did any other authorities. In such a case at the receiving end are these taxi drivers who don’t know “where to go”. While the situation has become complex, a simple solution could have been to implement the ban with prospective effect which has been done on numerous occasions to avoid chaos, which the ban might create on Delhi roads in times to come.

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Diesel taxi ban in Delhi-NCR: SC could have implemented it with ‘prospective’ effect