The period of relief for people in Bengaluru using vehicles registered out-of-the-state is over, as the High Court has ruled that the stay on collecting taxes is not applicable to all.
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On April 8th, the High Court limited the stay on collecting lifetime taxes till further orders, applicable only to the petitioner of the on-going case that contested the tax levied on a particular petitioner. This has in effect vacated the unofficial stay on the collection of lifetime taxes from vehicles registered outside Karnataka, traveling in this state for more than 30 days.
The order issued by the High Court on February 2nd 2015 directed the state authorities to “not precipitate the matter” until there is decision on lifetime tax collection. The order was not clear about whether the stay was just on the particular case, or for all cases.
Still, the RTO stopped collecting lifetime tax. With the High Court making it clear that the stay is only related to the petitioner in the case, the crackdown on vehicles with non-Karnataka registration is expected to begin anytime.
After the amendment on February 28th 2014 to the Section 3 of Karnataka Motor Vehicles Taxation Act, 1957, all vehicles registered out of Karnataka were required to pay lifetime taxes if they use their vehicles in Karnataka for more than 30 days continuously. Prior to this amendment, 12 months of time was given for vehicles registered outside the state, to pay the life time tax.
Following this amendment, RTO officers and traffic police began a crackdown on all non-Karnataka registered vehicles in the city. Within the next few months, over 1000 vehicles were seized and taxes worth Rs. 25 crores were raised.
Petition on one-time road tax receives good response
An online petition started by Waseem Memon, requesting implementation of “One Nation-One Road Tax policy” has been signed by over 40,800 people all over India, so far.
The petition complained that amendments to road-tax policies carried out by Karnataka, Telangana, Gurgaon and Kerala “are against the freedom of movement which our constitution guarantees and are also against the spirit of the constitution’s provisions and federal principles.”
Vehicle owners harassed, file petitions
During these drives, many cases of harassment were reported where the onus of proving that the vehicle has not been plying inside the state for more than 30 days was put on the drivers, rather than following the standard norm of ‘Innocent until proved guilty’,
G Gopal Reddy, a businessman from Nellore, received a demand of Rs 1.69 lakhs as life time tax in Karnataka, when his Honda Accord registered in Andhra Pradesh was seized by RTO officials.
Reddy filed a writ petition at High Court in September 2014, after which an interim order was passed by the court directing the RTO officials to release his car.
The court raised concerns over the hardships caused by this amendment, while pointing out that once the lifetime tax is paid in any one state of country, it is not held valid throughout the territory of the India. The amendment, the court had held, is against the spirit of the constitution which champions freedom of movement within the country.
Transport Commissioner Rame Gowda had assured, in his statement to Bangalore Mirror, that collection of fines from vehicles registered out of state was stopped during this period of eight weeks when the stay order of the court was in effect. However, Citizen Matters is in possession of challans and affidavits which prove that the fine collection had continued even during this period.
Following another petition (WP 594/2015) by Ananth Karattuparambil, a member of the group Justice for Non KA Registration Vehicle Owners, the High Court issued an order on February 2nd, 2015, directing the state authorities to “not precipitate the matter” until there is decision on lifetime tax collection. The order was not clear about whether the stay was just on the particular case, or for all cases. Still, the RTO stopped collecting lifetime tax.
Unofficial stay order not to stay
But the relief brought by this to the commuters in Bangalore using vehicles registered in different states has come to an end today, when the High Court vacated the stay order.
Two days ago, on April 6th, 2015, the government’s advocate filed an appeal to the court asking that the undertaking in which the government had promised to not collect lifetime taxes till further orders from the court should be applicable only to the petitioner and not to others.
This appeal has been allowed in the court today, on April 8th, 2015, clearing way to collecting the tax for all non-KA registered vehicles.
Waseem Memon, the founder of the facebook group Justice for Non KA registration Vehicle Owners, clarified to Citizen Matters that the stay wasn’t exactly official in nature. The government advocate gave an undertaking on behalf of the government that the amendment will not be enforced until further orders from the court; but the court did not officially issue any stay.
Not the end of the legal battle, however
Waseem Memon and others want to file a counter-appeal or a review petition once they receive the certified copy of the order issued on April 8th 2015. In a Facebook post, Memon explained that depending on the language of the order, they will be deciding whether to opt for an appeal which will be heard by the same judge, or for a review petition, which will be heard by a larger bench.
“We will be filing one or the other, on the grounds that the petitioner has challenged the constitutional validity of the amendment and hence the stay must be applicable to all till the court’s final order on the issue is out,” he told Citizen Matters.
However, till this counter-appeal or review petition is heard by the court on its next hearing, it is not safe to use vehicles registered out of Karnataka, Memon warns.
Addendum (as on April 28th 2015)
Some members of the group Justice for Non KA Registration Vehicle Owners, including Memon, met with Transport Minister, Ramaling Reddy on the morning of April 28th. They submitted a 2,500-page petition and asked him to consider the possibility of levying annual tax on non-KA registered vehicles. Reddy directed them to meet with the Transport Commissioner, Rame Gowda, who they proceeded to meet at 1 pm.
The Transport Commissioner initially stated that all southern states had passed the 30-day amendment, and more specifically that Kerala has passed it after formal protests. When the group members stated that Kerala was looking to levy an annual road tax which was a fixed amount for two and four wheeler instead, Gowda stated that he would look into their proposal for yearly road tax in Karnataka as well.