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  • In the case of Priyasha Bhattacharyya vs State of West Bengal, the Calcutta High Court recently held in a notable judgement, that under the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, a police officer has no authority to disqualify the driving licence of a person.
  • Justice Moushumi Bhattacharya pronounced that only the licensing authority is empowered to issue and suspend the driving licence.
  • The court was overseeing a plea filed by the petitioner challenging the suspension of her licence by the Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Kolkata on May 20, 2022 for over speeding. 
  • The police suspended her licence because she was driving over the speed limit at  60 km per hour on a road which only permitted speed of 30 km per hour.
  • The State relied upon a notice issued by the Calcutta Government on November 23, 2016 that empowered the Deputy Commissioner of Police of Traffic and Superintendent of Police of the Districts to act with regard to Section 19 for disqualifying offending drivers or revoking their licences if it is found required for the purpose of establishing effective control of traffic under Chapter VIII of the West Bengal Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989.
  • The bench noted that though this notice refers to Section 19 of the Act, there was no evidence to suggest that the relevant provisions of the Act were amended to reflect that authorization had been given to the Police. Justice Bhattacharya further said that this notice causes confusion as to the licence impounding powers of the authority mentioned in the Act.
  • The court held that the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 show that only a licensing authority can prohibit a person from holding or obtaining a driving licence or revoke such licence. 
  • As defined in section 2(20), Licensing authority does not include any authority other than an authority empowered to issue licences. Section 206 refers to the power of the licensing authority to disqualify or revoke under section 19 and further limits the power of a police officer to confiscate a document. This is done by restricting the power of the police only to seize the driving licence and forward it to the licensing authority for disqualification or revocation.
  • The court said that considering it has come to a conclusion that the police do not have powers to suspend the licence of a person, the orders passed by the ACP of Kolkata, to suspend the licence of the petitioner were quashed.
  • However, the bench refused to buy the justification of the petitioner that she violated the speed limit as she had to check on her unwell nine-month-old baby girl, who was alone at home. The court asserted that an excuse for over speeding is no ground to become a risk to other travellers on the road and that the petitioner should have a sufficient eco-system in place.
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