The Supreme Court Judgment
“In our considered opinion the Division Bench in the impugned judgment of the High Court of Kerala has failed to give effect to the provisions contained in section 52(1) and has emphasized only on the Rules. As such, the decision rendered by the Division Bench cannot be said to be laying down the law correctly. The Rules are subservient to the provisions of the Act and particulars in certificate of registration can also be changed except to the extent of the entries made in the same as per the specifications originally made by the manufacturer. Circular No.7/2006 is also to be read in that spirit. Authorities to act accordingly.”
“amended with the purpose to prohibit alteration of vehicles in any manner, including change of tyres of higher capacity, keeping in view road safety and protection of the environment”.
What The Statement Means
On 8th January 2019, the Supreme Court bench headed by Justices Arun Mishra and Vineet Saran banned the practice of major vehicle modifications which include changes to vehicle’s original specifications. The court found fallacies in the divisional bench judgment mainly regarding the interpretation of the rules. It held that the interpretation of the rules should be done in a manner so as to support the intent of the Act.
The Division Bench’s judgment of the Kerela High Court made “structural alterations permissible as per the provisions of the Kerela Rules.”
Amendment Act 27 of 2000
The amended version of Section 52 of The Motor vehicle’s Act which relates to the judgment in question, deals with the term ‘alteration’ in a motor vehicle.
“Explanation : For the purposes of this section, “alteration” means a change in the structure of a vehicle which results in a change in its basic feature.”
“No owner of a motor vehicle shall so alter the vehicle that the particulars contained in the certificate of registration are at variance with those originally specified by the manufacturer”
If the modifications are done for the purpose of improving fuel efficiency resulting in reducing vehicular pollution then they are exempted from the above law by the Central government. Therefore, changes like installation of CNG, LPG, battery-powered kits, etc. are still permissible under the law. Modifications made for special or certain specified purpose need the approval of the Central government to be exempted from the law. The engine of a vehicle can only be changed or replaced with prior permission from the Regional Transport Office (RTO).
What Can be Changed
However, minor modifications, in connection to the vehicle accessory and modification industries, can be made.
Here’s what can be changed in a vehicle –
1) You can change the colour of the vehicle as the SC has said that changing the color of the vehicle depending on the customer’s will not deter a vehicle from getting registered.
2) Minor fitments that door protectors, decals, rain guard can be added.
3) One can change the tyres in affordable cars as the manufacturers usually offer different spec tyres for base and top variant. (E.g.) Maruti Suzuki Swift Lxi comes with 160 section tyre while the Zxi comes with a 180 section tyre. So a Lxi owner can opt for 180 section tyre, as the vehicle is the same.
The motor vehicle industries of tyre, modification, and accessory have to work around considering, the factors of road safety, eco-friendly, the law, and the definition of ‘alteration’. This judgment might possibly affect these businesses negatively but there’s enough space for them to operate in and continue thriving. The giants of these industries like DC, Vardenchi, Rajputana Customs, etc., will be left with a sour taste in their mouths but their own works are an example of this fact.
There are still many questions left unanswered due to the ambiguity of the judgment and all the people who are affected by this ban are likely to wait to file their petitions until further clarification is provided.
Sources: TOI, News18, Legistify, Financial Express, IndiaTimes, Khurana&Khurana
Image Credits: Motorscribes, GaadiWaadi