Three weeks after the police began a pan-Kashmir campaign to seize vehicles with non-local number plates, the Regional Transport Officer (RTO) Kashmir, Akramullah Tak, has now admitted that seizures of such vehicles were not permitted under the law.
Speaking to The Kashmir Walla, RTO Kashmir Akramullah Tak said that there was no law under which vehicles registered outside Jammu and Kashmir could be seized.
If such vehicles have spent more than twelve months in Kashmir are merely liable for a fine under sections 47 and 50 of the Motor Vehicles Act, said Tak.
Under the law, failure to register after the time limit can only invite a fine of ₹ 100 on the first instance and ₹ 300 on subsequent challans. In Kashmir, however, the police have seized over 150 vehicles in an extra-judicial campaign citing the use of such vehicles in militant attacks.
As per a 27 March order, the RTO Kashmir had merely directed owners of vehicles registered outside J-K to again register with their concerned transport authority in Kashmir.
“All the vehicle owners who have purchased their vehicles bearing outside registration mark have to apply for a new registration mark as per the provisions of section 47/50 of Motor vehicles Act 1988 read with rule 54 of central motor vehicles Rules 1989 within the prescribed period,” the circular read.
The period of registration in Kashmir was given as 15 days since the publication of the circular. The seizures by the police coincided with the issuance of the RTO’s order. Just three days later, for example, the Kupwara police seized 39 vehicles for allegedly “plying without proper registration documents.
In a press release on 30 March, the Kupwara police said that it “launched a special drive against vehicles without proper documents especially the vehicle which are from outside JK.” It further asked the public to comply with the RTO’s order, failing which such vehicles would be seized.
“Vehicles purchased outside J&K with non-J&K registration numbers & not registered with local ARTO offices or vehicles having J&K registration having not valid documents shall be seized. If anybody own such vehicle get it (sic) transferred & registered with local ARTO immediately in order to avoid seizure,” the police said.
As the illegal seizures led to panic, Inspector General of Police Kashmir Vijay Kumar addressing a press conference said that the seizure of non-local numbered vehicles had been necessitated to curb the flow of drugs and militants using such vehicles to carry out attacks.
The issue was also taken to the Jammu and Kashmir High Court in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) which stayed the “unwarranted action” and directed the release of any such vehicles that are seized. J-K’s Advocate General, however, denied any seizures. The court also took an assurance that in the meanwhile the police will no longer seize vehicles registered outside the state.
Zahoor Ahmad Bhat, among the lawyers part of PIL, pointed out that the Karnataka High Court had already struck down one such order as there is no law justifying police action and forcible re-registration of vehicles.
The PIL is set for hearing at the High Court in Srinagar on Thursday, 21 April. On Wednesday the High Court directed the Commissioner Secretary of the Transport Department to be present in the court.