Earlier this month, the Bombay High Court bench of Justice Revati Mohite-Dere slammed the Regional Transport Office (RTO), Navi Mumbai division for acting "high-handedly and arbitrarily" by seizing a Fortuner SUV car and refusing to release it. The bench ordered the state to pay costs of Rs 50,000 to the second owner of the car and to recover the amount from the erring officials of the RTO, Vashi, Navi Mumbai.
The bench was hearing a plea filed by one Vijay Goradkar, a resident of Bhiwandi seeking directives to the RTO, Vashi to release his vehicle.
According to Goradkar, he was the second owner of the vehicle as the first owner Balasaheb Chattar couldn't repay the loan, he had availed from Kotak Mahindra Bank to purchase the vehicle. The bank, to recover the amount had auctioned the car and it was purchased by a showroom owner, who later sold it to Goradkar.
As per Goradkar's plea an RTO officer in December 2020 seized his vehicle when it was parked at Saki Naka, Mumbai as his driver failed to furnish the registration certificate and PUC documents. The officer gave a challan of Rs 400 fine to the driver and took away the car despite the driver showing readiness to pay the fine amount.
The RTO claimed that it has seized the car under section 207 of the Motor Vehicles Act.
The court referred to the particular section that empowers a police officer/or other person authorised in this behalf by state government, to impound a motor vehicle, if he has reason to believe that the vehicle is being driven without registration, without a permit, driven by a person who has no driving licence or plying on unauthorised route. The law provides for releasing the vehicle only after satisfying that it complies with the requirement of this provision.
Accordingly, Justice Mohite-Dere held that none of these ingredients of section 207 would apply in the present case, as the registration certificate was in name of Goradkar, in fact, even the records of the RTO showed Goradkar as the second owner of the vehicle.
The judge further noted that by a letter on December 15, 2020, the RTO had informed Gorakdar that it cannot release his car as the original owner has disputed the ownership and registration of the vehicle.
"The conduct of the RTO Officers smacks of high-handedness and arbitrariness," Justice Mohite-Dere observed, adding, "The detention of the vehicle was thus, clearly unauthorised, illegal and without any authority."
"The RTO Officers were not concerned with the ownership of the vehicle and could not have detained the vehicle. These officers are not adjudicating authorities. They could not have detained the car merely because the original owner of the vehicle had laid his claim to the vehicle, when, the documents produced by the Goradkar showed his ownership, even in the RTO records," the judge said.
"The action of the RTO smacks of high handedness and probable collusion with the original owner of the vehicle," the judge remarked.
According the bench noted that because of the car's detention, Goradkar was deprived of his vehicle for seven months and it further deteriorated the condition of the car.
"He has been put to tremendous hardships because of the arbitary actions of the RTO Officers, who, in the facts, had no authority in law, to detain the vehicle," the judge said, adding,"Considering the brazen conduct of the Officers of the RTO, Navi Mumbai, it would be appropriate to direct the Maharashtra government to pay costs of Rs. 50,000/- to him."
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