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Comments on the Proposed Rule 138A of the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989 Concerning Radio Frequency Identification Tags

Posted by Bhairav Acharya at Dec 03, 2012 01:50 PM |
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The Centre for Internet & Society gave its comments on the proposed Rule 138A of the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989. The comments were made in response to Notification GSR 738(E) published in the Gazette of India on October 3, 2012.

I Preliminary

1.1 These initial comments are made with regard to Notification GSR 738(E), published in the Gazette of India, Extraordinary, Part II, Section 3, Sub-section (i), on 3 October 2012
(“Impugned Notification”).

1.2 The Impugned Notification proposes to insert a new rule 138A in the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989 (“CMV Rules”) to make mandatory the installation of radio frequency identification (“RFID”) tags on all light and heavy motor vehicles to enable their instant identification and monitoring by electronic toll collection booths, the police and any other authority or person that is able to query and read RFID tags.

II  Validity of the Impugned Notification

(a) The Scope and Limits of the Executive Power of the Union

2.1 The competence of the Central Government to govern by executive action (such as the Impugned Notification) is restricted to the extent of the executive power of the Union.[1] Following the Ram Jawaya Kapur case,[2] it is settled that the extent of the Union’s executive power is coterminous with the legislative power of Parliament even in the absence of controlling legislation in that field.[3] This is in addition to the Union’s subordinate executive power to give effect to legislation through statutory delegation[4] and its directory executive power to give directions to the States.[5] Thus, there are three kinds of executive power exercisable by the Union:

(a) the regular power, exercisable in the absence of controlling legislation, if the subject of  executive action is a matter upon which Parliament is competent to legislate;
(b) the subordinate power, exercisable under the terms of a controlling statute, if that statute specifically delegates such a power to the Union; and
(c) the directory power, exercisable within judicial limits, to secure the compliance of the States with the laws of the Union.

2.2 The regular executive power of the Union cannot be exercised over a matter that is controlled by parliamentary legislation.[6] This principle is akin to, but does not correspond exactly with, the doctrine of occupied field which is primarily concerned with the legislative entries contained in Schedule VII of the Constitution of India. Nevertheless, it is settled that since the power of the executive to act is subject to the control of the legislature, a statutory regime, where it exists, cannot be circumvented by the free exercise of executive power.[7] In the case of the Impugned Notification, the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 constitutes a statutory regime that occupies the field to preclude regular executive action by the Central Government with regard to RFID tags in motor vehicles. The Impugned Notification should next be examined only in light of the scope and limits of the Union’s subordinate executive power since, as the Impugned Notification is not a direction to the States, the Union’s directory executive power is not in issue.

(b) Extent of the Central Government’s Rule-Making Power

2.3  The subordinate executive power of the Union emanates from section 110 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 (“MV Act”) that confers the Central Government with the power to make rules to implement the statute. At this point it is important to note that the legislative competence of the MV Act is traceable to Entry 35 of List III, Schedule VII of the Constitution of India. Entry 35 concerns:

Mechanically propelled vehicles including the principles on which taxes on such vehicles are to be levied.

Entry 35 being a concurrent subject, it is open to both the Union and the States to act to regulate motor vehicles.[8] Accordingly, the MV Act also vests the States with subordinate executive power through sections 28, 38, 65, 95, 96, 107, 111, 138 and 176 which confer State Governments with the power to make rules to implement the statute in, and amend its application to, their particular states. As for the Union, so for the States is the regular executive power precluded by the existence of a statutory regime.[9]

2.4       Section 110 of the MV Act states:

110. Power of the Central Government to make rules. – (1) The Central Government may make rules regulating the construction, equipment and maintenance of motor vehicles and trailers with respect to all or any of the following matters, namely:-

(a)  the width, height, length and overhand of vehicles and of the loads carried;
(b) the size, nature, maximum retail price and condition of tyres, including embossing thereon of date and year of manufacture, and the maximum load carrying capacity;
(c) brakes and steering gear;
(d) the use of safety glasses including prohibition of the use of tinted safety glasses;
(e) signalling appliances, lamps and reflectors;

(f) speed governors;
(g) the emission of smoke, visible vapour, sparks, ashes, grit or oil;
(h) the reduction of noise emitted by or caused by vehicles;
(i) the embossment of chassis number and engine number and the date of manufacture;
(j) safety belts, handle bars of motor cycles, auto-dippers and other equipments essential for safety of drivers, passengers and other road-user;
(k) standards of the components used in the vehicle as inbuilt safety devices;
(l) provision for transportation of goods of dangerous or hazardous nature to human life;
(m) standards for emission of air pollutants;

(n) installation of catalytic convertors in the class of vehicles to be prescribed;
(o) the placement of audio-visual or radio or tape recorder type of devices in public vehicles;
(p) warranty after sale of vehicle and norms therefor:

Provided that any rules relating to the matters dealing with the protection of environment, so far as may be, shall be made after consultation with the Ministry of the Government of India dealing with environment.

(2) Rules may be made under sub-section (1) governing the matters mentioned therein, including the manner of ensuring the compliance with such matters and the maintenance of motor vehicles in respect of such matters, either generally in respect of motor vehicles or trailers or in respect of motor vehicles or trailers of a particular class or in particular circumstances.

(3) Notwithstanding anything contained in this section,-

(a) the Central Government may exempt any class of motor vehicles from the provisions of this Chapter;
(b) a State Government may exempt any motor vehicle or any class or description of motor vehicles from the rules made under sub-section (1) subject to such conditions as may be prescribed by the Central Government.

2.5 The subordinate executive power of the Union, i.e. the rule-making power, is restricted to the exact extent of the delegation.[10] This is a well settled and undisputed principle of administrative law. Therefore, the Central Government cannot, in exercise of the rule-making power granted under section 110 of the MV Act, frame rules for matters for which it has not been specifically empowered under that section. Section 110 of the MV Act does not grant the Central Government the power to make rules for mandating RFID tags on vehicles. Clauses (a) to (p) of section 110(1) descriptively list the matters relating to the construction, equipment and maintenance of motor vehicles that the Central Government is competent to regulate by exercising its executive power. This list is exactingly drafted; the absence of general words or a miscellaneous empowerment obviates the need for examining any particular word or words in clauses (a) to (p) in light of the principle of ejusdem generis.

2.6 In the absence of a specific empowerment, or even a general empowerment that may be positively construed ejusdem generis, only two clauses of section 110(1) require further examination. These are:

(e) signalling appliances, lamps and reflectors; and,
(o) the placement of audio-visual or radio or tape recorder type of devices in public vehicles;

Clause (e), which deals with signalling appliances, cannot be read to include RFID tags since, in accordance with the principle of noscitur a sociis, the meaning of the words “signalling appliances” is derived from its association with the words “lamps and reflectors.”[11] Therefore, RFID tags, which are totally unrelated to lamps, reflectors and related signalling appliances, are not the subject of clause (e). On the other hand, while clause (o) contains an executive empowerment in respect of radio devices, the empowerment only concerns “public vehicles”; and, hence, the installation of RFID tags in non-public vehicles including light vehicles, such as cars, and heavy vehicles, such trucks and lorries, cannot be carried out under this clause. In any event, the word “radio” must be interpreted noscitur a sociis in light of its association with the words “audio-visual” and “tape recorder” to yield an executive empowerment in respect of in-vehicle entertainment devices only.

2.7  Therefore, in the absence of an empowerment under section 110 of the MV Act in respect of RFID tags, the Impugned Notification of the Central Government is ultra vires the MV Act. Rules that are ultra vires the parent statute for exceeding the limits of subordinate executive power are void.[12] The Impugned Notification is both ultra vires its parent statute and void. In this regard, it is instructive to note that it is settled that void rules neither acquire validity by a subsequent conferment of statutory power nor by their publication in the Official Gazette.[13]

III  Constitutional Implications regarding Privacy

3.1 Across the world, RFID technology has been challenged on the basis of its intrusion into personal privacy. RFID tags operate on a pre-determined radio frequency; and, unless the tags are programmed to rapidly, constantly and randomly switch frequencies or are able to jam unauthorised queries – an extremely expensive proposition, RFID signals can be easily intercepted. The interception a vehicle’s RFID signals, whether by public authorities or by private persons, can yield detailed locational information of the driver of the vehicle. This is an unwarranted intrusion into the locational privacy of individuals.

3.2 Locational privacy is an intrinsic part of the right to privacy. An intrusion into this right, such as in the form of mandatory RFID tags on vehicles, will reveal information as to inter alia a person’s whereabouts and daily routine as well as addresses of friends’ houses, visits to the hospital, visits to a place of worship, restaurant preferences, addresses of children’s schools and so on. This will affect ordinary citizens, politicians and civil servants equally. All this information will be at the hands of the police. To place the power of tracking and monitoring ordinary individuals with the police, when such technology is not even available with intelligence agencies, would be an act of recklessness. This is compounded by the total lack of safeguards accompanying the attempted imposition of RFID technology.

3.3   Following the Kharak Singh[14] and Gobind[15] cases, the locational privacy of individuals, specifically in relation to their privacy from the police, is constitutionally protected.[16] It is now accepted that privacy is an essential ingredient of personal liberty forming a part of the right recognised under Article 21 of the Constitution. It is further settled that the personal liberty of an individual cannot be taken away except by a law that establishes a procedure that is fair, just and reasonable that withstands the tests of Article 14 and Article 19 of the Constitution.[17]The Impugned Notification, while constituting a “law” under Article 13 of the Constitution, does not create a fair, just and reasonable procedure to deprive individuals of their personal liberty and therefore fails the tests imposed by Maneka Gandhi. Therefore, the Impugned Notification, even if it were not void for want of competence, would be ultra vires the Constitution for violating Article 21.[18]

IV  Summary

4.1  In sum:

(a)  Section 110 of the MV Act does not bestow on the Central Government a specific empowerment to make rules in respect of RFID tags;
(b)  The Impugned Notification exceeds the delegated limits of the Central Government’s subordinate executive power;
(c)  The Impugned Notification is ultra vires the MV Act, its parent statute;
(d)  Rules that are ultra vires the parent statute for exceeding the limits of subordinate executive power are void;
(e)  The Impugned Notification is void;
(f)   The imposition of mandatory RFID tags on vehicles will yield locational information to seriously invade the right to  privacy;
(g)  The right to privacy is an essential ingredient of personal liberty and is constitutionally protected;
(h)  The Impugned Notification violates the right to privacy without creating a fair, just and reasonable procedure to deprive persons of their personal liberty;
(i)   The Impugned Notification is ultra vires the Constitution for violating Article 21;
(j)   Any rule that mandates RFID tags on vehicles to violate the right to privacy is void ab initio.


[1]. Article 73 of the Constitution of India.
[2]. Ram Jawaya Kapur AIR 1955 SC 549.
[3]. Ibid at prs. 12-14.
[4]. See generally, In re Delhi Laws Act AIR 1951 SC 332, Harishankar Bagla AIR 1954 SC 465, Rajnarain Singh AIR 1954 SC 569 and Edward Mills AIR 1955 SC 25.
[5]. See Articles 256 and 257 of the Constitution and State of Rajasthan (1977) 3 SCC 592.
[6]. Bishamber Dayal (1982) 1 SCC 39 at pr. 20.
[7]. Bharat Coking Coal (1990) 4 SCC 557 at prs. 15-17.
[8].Article 253 of the Constitution.
[9]. Article 162 of the Constitution.
[10]. See In re Delhi Laws Act AIR 1951 SC 332, State of Bihar (2000) 4 SCC 640, Shri Sitaram Sugar (1990) 3 SCC 223 [all Constitution Benches], Ramakrishnan Kulwant Rai 1989 Supp (1) SCC 541, K. M. Charia Abdullah (1965) 1 SCR 601, Charanjit Gill (2000) 5 SCC 742, ADM (Rev.) Delhi Administration (2000) 5 SCC 451 and State of Karnataka (1983) 2 SCC 402.
[11]. For foundational Indian case law on the principle of noscitur a sociis, see generally, M. K. Ranganathan AIR 1955 SC 604, Hospital Mazdoor Sabha AIR 1960 SC 110 and Corporation of the City of Nagpur AIR 1960 SC 675.
[12]. See Supreme Court Welfare Association (1989) 4 SCC 187 and State of Karnataka (1983) 2 SCC 402.
[35]. General Officer Commanding-in-Chief (1988) 2 SCC 351 at prs. 12-14.
[14]. Kharak Singh AIR 1963 SC 1295. The majority, speaking through Ayyangar, J., found that ‘domiciliary visits’ conducted by the police in exercise of powers granted under police regulations violated Article 21 of the Constitution; and, the minority speaking through Subba Rao, J., found that both secret police picketing (as to the location of individuals) and domiciliary visits violated both Article 21 and Article 19(1)(d) of the Constitution.
[15]. Gobind (1975) 2 SCC 148.
[16]. For a jurisprudential development of the right to privacy in India, see generally Kharak Singh AIR 1963 SC 1295, R. M. Malkani (1973) 1 SCC 471, Gobind (1975) 2 SCC 148, R. Rajagopal (1994) 6 SCC 632, People’s Union for Civil Liberties (1997) 1 SCC 301, Mr ‘X’ (1998) 8 SCC 296, Canara Bank (2005) 1 SCC 496, Bharat Shah (2008) 13 SCC 5, Naz Foundation (2009) 160 DLT 277, Selvi (2010) 7 SCC 263 and Ram Jethmalani (2011) 8 SCC 1.
[17]. Maneka Gandhi (1978) 1 SCC 248 at prs. 4-14 (per Bhagwati, Untwalia and Fazal Ali, JJ.), 48-49 (per Chandrachud, J.), 62-78 and 79-91 (per Krishna Iyer, J.) and 192-199, 201, 203 and 211-215 (per Beg, CJI.)
[18]. In this regard, see also Supreme Court Welfare Association (1989) 4 SCC 187 and N. Bakshi 1962 Supp (1) SCR 505 for the proposition that rules violating the Constitution are void ab initio.

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