19 August 1992
Supreme Court


Case number: C.A. No.-000733-000751 / 1986
Diary number: 69450 / 1986








CITATION:  1992 AIR 1913            1992 SCR  (3) 935  1992 SCC  (4)  72        JT 1992 (4)   557  1992 SCALE  (2)205

ACT:        Motor Vehicles Act, 1939:       Sections    68-C    and    68-D-Draft    scheme    for nationalisation  of certain routes-Published in  Gazette  in 1977-Approval  in  1983-Quashed  by  High  Court-Change   in Government-Fresh   objections  filed  and   heard-Corruption charges against Transport Minister-Scheme approved in  1984- Gazetted  after 1 year by New Government when  the  minister was  no more in power--Allegations of corruption and  bias-- Whether  substantiated--Approval  of  the   Schemes--Whether valid--Delay  caused  in  approval  of  the  Scheme--Whether reasonable.

HEADNOTE:      The  respondents  were   playing  stage  carriages   on various  routes in a district. On 17.5.1977, the  appellant- Corporation  gazetted  about 70 draft schemes  proposing  to ply  their buses to the complete exclusion of other  private operators  playing  their vehicles in  that  district.   The private operators raised their objection to the schemes, and only  in 1983 when a new Government was formed, the  schemes were  approved  by  the Transport  Minister.   Against  this order,  the private operators filed writ Petitions  and  the High  Court  quashed the order with a   direction  that  the operators  should  be   heard  afresh  and  the  change   in circumstances should be taken into account before finalising the schemes.      Thereafter,  fresh  objections  were  invited  and  the Transport  Minister  heard the  objections.   The  operators objected  to this alleging that the Transport  Minister  had taken  illegal  gratification from some   of  the  operators promising to defer the schemes.  In the  meantime there  was again a change in the Government, but the Transport Minister continued  as  such  in the new Government as  well  and  he approved   the  scheme.   Again  there  was  a   change   in Government  and  the new Government  issued  various  orders approving  the schemes.  Against this, Writ  Petitions  were filed  before  the High Court. Most of the  Writ   Petitions were dismissed on-                                                        936 the short ground that the petitioners did not  approach  the



Court  with  clean  hands,as the  petitioners  claimed  they bribed  the Transport Minister for deferring the  scheme  of nationalisation.  The other Writ Petitions were allowed, and the  State Government was directed to give a  fresh  hearing to the petitioners before finalising the  scheme  afresh.      The  present  appeals were filed against that  part  of the High Court’s order allowing  some of the Writ Petitions.      On behalf of the appellants it was contended that there was  hardly any case of bias made out against  the  Minister and  the allegations made were vague and not  substantiated; and  that  the gazette notifications approving  the  schemes were issued much  later, when the Transport Minister was  no longer in charge of the Ministry concerned, which  indicated that the approval by the Minister  had been ratified by  the subsequent Government of which he was not a member.      On  behalf of the Respondents, it was urged that  there was inordinate delay in the approval of the schemes and that the appellant-Corporation was not in a fit condition to  ply buses on all the routes on account of its bad management and poor financial position.      Allowing the appeals, this Court      HELD:1. The   Transport Minister did not do anything to oblige  the  transporters who were said to  have  given  him illegal  gratification. In fact he acted  contrary to  their interests.  His approval of the schemes could well have been motivated by  his faith in the nationalisation policy rather than  represent  an attempt to get out  of  an  embarrassing situation  created  by the allegations made against  him  as surmised by the High Court.  This consideration apart, there was no specific material to  substantiate the allegations of corruption  referred  to or  relied upon by the High  Court. Also,  the approval was gazetted only almost a  year  later, after  the  concerned  Minister went  out  of  the  picture. Having  regard to all these consideration, the High  Court’s conclusion  that  the enquiry and approval were  biased  and therefore  the  scheme  should be quashed  is  based  on  no material and cannot be sustained.[941E-G]      2. The contention as to the delay between 1977 when the draft  schemes were gazetted and the first  approval in 1983 has been examined-                                              937 and rejected by the High Court.  The delay between 1983  and 1985  cannot, in the facts and circumstances of the case, be considered to be unreasonable.[942D]      3.  By  the interim orders passed by  this  Court,  the State  Government was permitted to act to on  the  schemes. The  aggrieved operators were also given an  opportunity  to apply  to the Government for modifying the schemes,  but  no application  has  been  made.  The  schemes  have  been  in operation  for  the past 6 years or more and, if disturbed now, it may lead to complete chaos by restoring a  situation which  has  ceased to exist for more than  six  years.   The interim  order  permitting the Government to  implement  the schemes  will  continue  to be in  force  unless  and  until modified  in appropriate proceedings.[941H,942,B,E]

JUDGMENT:      CIVIL APPELLATE JURISDICTION : Civil Appeal Nos. 733-70 of 1986.      From  the Judgement and Order dated 22.11.1985  of  the Andhra  Pradesh   High  Court in Writ  Petition  Nos.  9705, 9708,9752,9777,9778,9779,9780,9781,9799,9810,9816,9821,9823,9824, 9832,10069,10606,10608,11063,11070 & 11076 of 1985.



    Altaf   Ahmed,   Addl.   Solicitor   General   and   B. Parthasarthy for the Appellant.      B.Kanta Rao and T.V.S.N. Chari for the Respondents.      The Judgment of the Court was delivered by      RANGANATHAN,  J.  These are two batches of  19  appeals each.  One set of appeals has been filed by  Andhra  Pradesh State  Road  Transport Corporation  (A.P.S.R.T.C.)  and  the other  set of appeals has been filed by the State of  Andhra Pradesh.  Both the sets of appeals are directed against  the judgment  of the Andhra Pradesh High Court date  22.11.1985. All  the  appeals  can be disposed of by a common judgment.      The  respondents in both sets of appeals are  transport operators, who were plying their stage carriages on  various routes  in  Cuddapah  district.  On   17.5.77,  the   APSRTC gazetted about 70 draft schemes under which they proposed to ply their buses to the complete exclusion  of other  private operators  plying  their vehicles in  the  above   district. Naturally the private-                                                        938 operators  raised objections to these schemes.   It  appears that till about 1981 the Government was also lukewarm  about the  process of nationalisation.  However, a new  Government was formed in 1983, which took up for hearing the objections to  the  draft  scheme published  in  1977.   The  Transport Minister passed an order approving the scheme.  The  private operators  filed  a  batch of writ petitions  and  the  High Court, vide its orders dated 16.12.83, quashed the  approved schemes with a direction that the operators should be  heard afresh and the change in circumstances should be taken  into account  before finalising the schemes.  On  24.4.84,  fresh objections were invited.  The Transport Minister heard these objections.   The  operators  objected to  his  hearing  the objections, alleging that he had taken illegal gratification from  some of the operators promising to defer the  schemes. In  the  meantime there was a change in Government  but  the Transport Minister continued in the new Government with  the same  portfolio and he approved the schemes on 9..9.1984.  A few days later, the new Government resigned and the previous Chief Minister came back to power.  Thereafter, about a year later,  on 7.8.85, The Government issued various  Government orders approving the schemes.      In  August 1985, about 80 writ petitions were filed  in the  High Court.  These were disposed of by an  order  dated 22.11.1985.  By the said order, the High Court dismissed  60 writ  petitions on the short ground that  these  petitioners had  not approached the court with clean hands and were  not entitled to the exercise of the court’s discretionary powers under  Article  226 of the Constitution.  This  was  because these  writ petitions had contained an allegation  that  the writ   petitioners   either  directly   or   through   their representatives had given bribes to the Minister in question for  deferring the scheme of nationalisation.  The other  22 writ  petitions were, however, allowed by the High Court  by the  same  order  dated 22.11.1985 common to  all  the  writ petitions.      The   transports,   whose  writ  petitions   had   been dismissed,  preferred  SLP  No.  15292  of  1985  and  other connected petitions before this Court.  The State Government as  well as APSRTC filed special leave petitions  from  that portion  of the order of the High Court, which allowed  writ petitions   of  22  petitioners  and  directed   the   State government  to  give a fresh hearing  to  these  petitioners before  finalising  the  schemes afresh.   The  order  dated 6.12.85 of this Court by which the earlier batch of SLPs was dismissed reads as follows:



                                                      939          "Dr. Chitale, Sr Advocate says that the  Government          of   Andhra   Pradesh  and  the   State   Transport          Undertaking   of  the  Andhra  Pradesh   would   be          questioning  that  part of the order  under  appeal          under  which  some  operators  are  given   further          opportunity to object before the State  Government.          We however do not find any ground to interfere with          the  judgment under appeal at the instance  of  the          petitioners  before  us.  Also we do not  find  any          substance  in the contention that  public  interest          has  suffered  in this case. We  expect  the  State          Government to take action under S.68-E of the Motor          Vehicle Act if there is any difficulty felt by  the          members of the general public by the  operation  of          the Scheme.          The Special Leave Petitions are dismissed."      However,  when  the  present batches of  special  leave petitions came up before this court, it passed the following order on 27.2.1986:          "Special  Leave  granted in all the  matters.   The          judgment  of the High Court is stayed in  terms  of          prayer (a) pending N/M the schemes may be put  into          operation subject to the result of the appeals."      This is how the present batch of 38 appeals are  before us.      Though  there were as many as about 70  schemes  before the   Government,  the  stages  of   gazette   notification, consideration   of   objections  and   approval   were   all simultaneous.   No  special features in respect  of  any  of these  schemes have been brought to our notice  which  would distinguish  any  one of them from the others.  As  we  have already mentioned, the ground on which the approval  granted to  the scheme was attacked was that the Transport  Minister had  received  illegal  grantification  from  some  of   the transporters  or  their representatives, promising  that  he would defer the nationalisation and not approve the schemes. The  allegation  was  that he later on  backed  out  of  his promise and granted approval to the schemes.  So far as writ petitions  off  persons  who  had  alleged  that  they   had personally  passed  on  certain bribes to  the  Minister  in question  were concerned, the High Court has dismissed  them on the ground that they had not come to the court with clean hands.   In other words, those objections were dismissed  in limine  without the court considering the  allegations  made against the                                                        940 Minister  on  their merits.  So far as  the  writ  petitions which  were allowed were concerned, however, the High  Court came  to  the conclusion that the approval  of  the  schemes should be set aside on the following ground :      XXX                      XXX                 XXX          "there  is a possibility of likelihood of bias  and          the   proceedings  relating  to  enquiry   by   the          Transport  (Minister) are vitiated and tainted with          biased approach and the approval of the scheme  and          the resultant G.Os. are illegal and invalid."      The  learned Additional Solicitor General appearing  on behalf  of the APSRTC submits that the High Court has  erred in quashing the notifications approving the schemes for  the reason  above-mentioned.   He points out that one  batch  of writ petitions had been dismissed on a short ground  without entering  into the merits of the allegations.  In the  other batch  of writ petitions with which we are concerned,  there were  only vague allegations of corruption.   The  concerned



Minister   had  filed  a  counter  affidavit   denying   the allegations.   The High Court did not take any  evidence  on the  issue  and  has just arrived at  its  conclusion  of  a likelihood of bias on the following circumstances:      1.   There  were  allegations  of  corruption  by   the operators;      2.  These  allegations were so serious  that  questions were raised in the legislative assembly in regard thereto;      3.  The allegations were also considered to be  serious by the Chief Minister, who initiated an enquiry against  the Minister concerned by the Lok Ayukta;      4.  The  Minister  had gone back  on  his  promise  and granted  approval to the schemes apparently with a  view  to scotching the rumors of allegations made against him.      Counsel  submits  that these circumstances  can  hardly make  out  a  case  of  bias  against  the  Minister.    The allegations  made  by the transporters were very  vague  and were  not  substantiated.   The mere fact  that  there  were questions  in  the  assembly cannot lend  substance  to  the allegations in regard to which no evidence has been recorded. The  action of the Chief Minister in initiating  proceedings against the Transport Minister by the Lok Ayukta                                                        941 were  prompted  by  the  consideration  that  the  Transport Minister had joined the new Ministry, which had been  formed in between deserting his leadership.  According to the  writ petitioners  they had paid moneys to the Transport  Minister for deferring the scheme of nationalisation but it is  their own  case that the Minister backed out of a promise that  he had  given  is  purely in the nature of  a  surmise  and  is unsupported  by any evidence or material.  The Minister  may very  well have approved of the scheme in pursuance  of  the Government’s decision to nationalise the transport routes in this  district  in public interest.   Finally,  the  learned Additional  Solicitor  General points out  that  though  the scheme  had been approved by the Minister against  whom  the allegations had been made, the actual gazette  notifications were  issued very much later, at a point of  time  when  the Transport  Minister was no longer in charge of the  Ministry concerned.   This indicates, says the learned counsel,  that he  approval by the said Minister had been ratified  by  the subsequent Government of which he was not a member.      We  have  gone through the record  and  considered  the contentions  of  the learned Additional  Solicitor  General. There  is some substance in his contention.  While no  doubt there were wild allegations against the Minister, they  were not  substantiated.   One fact that stands out is  that  the Minister did not do anything to oblige the transporters  who are  said  to have given him illegal gratification.  On  the contrary,  he  acted  contrary  to  their  interests.    His approval  of the schemes could well have been  motivated  by his   faith  in  the  nationalisation  policy  rather   than represent an attempt to get out of an embarrassing situation created  by the allegations made against him as surmised  by the  High  Court.  This consideration apart,  there  was  no specific   material  to  substantiate  the  allegations   of corruption  referred  to or relied upon by the  High  Court. There  is also the fact that the approval was gazetted  only almost  a year later, after the concerned Minister went  out of  the picture.  Having regard to all these considerations, we are of the opinion that the High Court’s conclusion  that the  enquiry  and  approval  were  biased  and  the  scheme, therefore,  should  be quashed is based on no  material  and cannot be sustained.      We would also like to point out one further reason  why



the practical effect of the High Court’s order should not be implemented.  We have already referred to the interim orders passed  by  this  Court on 6.12.85 and  27.2.86.   By  these orders the State Government was permitted to act on the                                                        942 schemes  and the operators, if aggrieved, were also given an opportunity  of applying to the Government for  modification of the schemes.  We are informed that the schemes have  been in  operation  for  the  past six  years  and  more  and  no objections have been presented by the operators calling  for a  modification of the scheme.  The learned counsel for  the appellant also assures us that in case any applications  are made to the Government for modifying the schemes they  would be considered and disposed of on merits.  If we disturb  the High  Court’s order, we will be now creating complete  chaos by restoring a situation which has ceased to exist more than six years from now.  This also is an aspect to be taken into consideration,  in  our  opinion,  in  disposing  of   these appeals.      Sri  Kanta  Rao, learned counsel for  the  respondents, urged  that there  was inordinate delay in the  approval  of the schemes promulgated as early as 1977 and that the APSRTC was not in a fit condition to ply buses on all the routes on account  of its bad management and poor financial  position. The  contention as to the delay between 1977 and  the  first approval  in  1983  has been examined and  rejected  in  the earlier  writ  petition.  The delay between  1983  and  1985 cannot, in the circumstances outlined earlier, be considered to be unreasonable.   The other objection voiced by  counsel has  been  considered  and rejected by  the  Government.  We therefore see no substance in the contentions of the counsel for respondents.      For the reasons above-mentioned, we are of the  opinion that  these appeals should be allowed, and the  approval  of the  schemes  restored.   The interim  order  passed  by  us permitting  the  Government to implement  the  schemes  will continue  to  be  in  force until  and  unless  modified  in appropriate  proceedings.  We direct accordingly,   But,  in the circumstances, we make no order regarding costs. G.N.                               Appeals allowed.                                                        943