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The vehicles of India's top constitutional authorities -- the President, the Vice President, Governors and Lieutenant Governors -- will soon have to display their registration numbers.
The Ministry of Road Transport and Highways in its affidavit filed before a bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar of the Delhi High Court said that it has written to the authorities concerned to get these vehicles registered.
"The offices of the President of India, Vice President, Governors and Lieutenant Governors in the country and Secretary (Ministry of External Affairs) have been asked vide letter dated January 2, 2018 to ensure that all the vehicles used by the President/President's Secretariat, Vice President/Vice President's Secretariat, Governor/ Lieutenant Governors/ or their officers/secretariat, Ministry of External Affairs be registered, if not done, and that they display registration mark as per the rules," the affidavit said.
The affidavit filed through central government standing counsel Rajesh Gogna further said that in pursuant to the letter, the Vice President secretariat informed that "all the vehicles of this secretariat display their registration number including vehicles being used by the Vice President of India and his spouse".
"The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has also intimated that it has 14 vehicles, which are used during the visit of foreign dignitaries. MEA has initiated the process of registration of vehicles," the high court was told.
The ministry's response came in the backdrop of a PIL seeking to enforce the display of registration number on cars of constitutional authorities and dignitaries.
The petition, filed by NGO Nyayabhoomi, has claimed that the practice of displaying the state emblem of four lions, instead of the registration numbers, make the cars conspicuous and the dignitaries may become easy targets for terrorists and anyone with malicious intent.
"The practice of replacing the registration mark with the State Emblem of India, instead of displaying them both, is arbitrary and symptomatic of the desire to rule rather than to serve," the petition said.
The PIL by the NGO's secretary Rakesh Agarwal also sought direction to the Delhi government and Delhi Police to seize the cars used by the Rashtrapati Bhawan, Vice President, Raj Niwas and Protocol division of the MEA for not being registered under the Motor Vehicles Act.
The plea referred to an RTI response by the MEA saying none of its 14 cars maintained by its protocol division were registered.
On the other hand, the plea claimed that the Rashtrapati Bhawan refused to supply the registration numbers of its cars on the ground that disclosure of such information would endanger the security of the state and life and physical safety of the President.
It said a person meeting with an accident involving such a car cannot bring any claim against it as due to the absence of any identification mark, the vehicle's ownership cannot be known and the citizens get the message that if a dignitary could disobey the law and get away with it, so could they.
It also sought prosecution of the owners of cars being used by such dignitaries in a time-bound manner and sought a direction to the ministries of home affairs and external affairs to register the cars used by the dignitaries and obtain their insurance policies.