By Nihit Nagpal and Devika Mehra
Each time we buy a vehicle, we ensure its registration under the requisite State laws and the necessary payments towards relevant taxes are complied with. Such vehicles, once registered, can be driven across any State, unless that vehicle has been outside its State of registration, in another State, for a continuous period of 12 months. In that case, the owner of the vehicle must apply to the Registering Authority, within whose jurisdiction the vehicle is now, for a new registration mark for that State.
The Road Transport Office of Kashmir had, however, brought into force a circular bearing no. RTO/K/Estt/85-95 dated March 27, 2021 in terms whereof, the vehicle owners, who had purchased their vehicles from outside Jammu and Kashmir Union Territory bearing outside registration mark, were asked to apply for a new registration mark as per the provisions of Sections 47 and 50 of Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 read with Rule 54 of Central Motor Vehicle Rules 1989 within 15 days from the date of Circular/notification, failing which action as warranted shall be initiated against them.
The Hon’ble High Court of Jammu and Kashmir has held that the owners of vehicles bearing registration number of other states do not need to apply for new registration in Jammu and Kashmir. In this landmark judgment, the Division Bench of Justices Vinod Chatterji Koul and Ali Mohhamed Magrey observed that the circular does not meet the requirement of Section 47 of the Motor Vehicles Act and unnecessarily affects vehicles entering the UT.
The circular of the RTO of Jammu and Kashmir was contradictory to the conditions laid down for registration u/s 47 of the Motor Vehicle Act, 1988 as explained above. The Court also found the circular to be contrary to Rule 54 of the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989 which also talks about re-registration of such motor vehicle that is intended to be kept in another State for a period exceeding 12 months.
The Hon’ble High court of Jammu and Kashmir while reiterating the provisions of Sections 46 & 47 of the Motor Vehicle Act, 1988 observed :
“If the vehicle is once registered in any State in India, it shall not be required to be registered elsewhere in India. But when a motor vehicle registered in one State has been kept in another State, for a period exceeding twelve months, the owner of the vehicle shall apply to the registering authority, within whose jurisdiction the vehicle then is, for the assignment of a new registration mark. This is as provided under Section 46 and 47 of the MV Act.”
Further, the Hon’ble court, while quashing the circular issued by RTO of Jammu and Kashmir observed that it was not proper to reiterate that if the vehicle once registered in any State in India, it shall not be required to be re-registered in another State in India, except in accordance with Section 46 of the Act, i.e. when the vehicle is kept in another State for a period of exceeding 12 months.
While quashing the circular, the Hon’ble High Court addressed and duly acknowledged the submissions of the Petitioner of double taxation that the circular brought with it, along with an unnecessary burden on visitors entering the State in their own vehicles which were registered in another State.
The decision of the Hon’ble High court of Jammu and Kashmir is a welcome decision as it will remove the unnecessary regulatory compliance levied on vehicle owners for applying a new registration mark on their vehicles. S. 3 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1998 levies a lifetime tax at the time of registration of the vehicle and subjecting the vehicle owners to such lifetime tax merely on the presumption that a vehicle is registered outside Jammu and Kashmir is not reasonable and is contradictory to the Motor Vehicles Act,1988.
However, the Hon’ble High Court clarified that its order will not take away the authority and powers of the Central Government/ Government of Jammu and Kashmir to deal with the eventuality of screening, scrutinizing, verifying the validity or genuineness of documents of a vehicle, having registration of another State, and making entry into Jammu and Kashmir for whatever purpose be it as a tourist, businessman, employee, etc. The Hon’ble High Court also made it clear that the provisions of Section 46 and 47 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 in the eventuality of the vehicle remaining in the State of Jammu & Kashmir for over 12 months, shall apply and the owner shall be mandated to apply for assignment of new registration mark.
 S. 47 of the Motor Vehicle Act,1988
 Zahoor Ahmad Bhat v. Government of J&K & Ors. [WP(C) No. 669/2021]