Himachal Pradesh High Court did not grant any relief to Private Bus operators who had challenged the decision of the Himachal Pradesh Government to fifty percent concessional fare to all woman passengers in HRTC buses. A division bench of Justice Tarlok Singh Chauhan and Justice Verinder Singh upheld the decision of the state government to provide 50 pet cent confessions to woman passengers implemented with effect from July 1, 2022. Passing a 27-page verdict court said that It is well known that girls, more especially in rural areas, drop out the school because their parents are not in a position to incur the expense of their seats. “If a small portion of the budget of running families is cut down, that could allow these girls to study, pursue their career or travel for their needs, hence financial burden would not hinder their growth in social inclusion with better opportunities and education while ensuring empowerment of women in the society; better safety of women with more female riders, because the free tickets are bound to lead more female passengers traveling in public transports and this in turn, would create an atmosphere of safety, security amongst the women travelers; availability of medical assistance and care because of concessional fare the women now would be in a position to travel to places where there are better medical facilities. Court did not convince by the argument that the judgment rendered by the Delhi High Court in Sta Operators Ekta Manch’s case stated that the present case appears to have attained finality and a different view. Court said that the notification passed by the government on July 6, 2022, was with its domain being a matter of policy which is not the premises of the court. As regards the respondent-Corporation being in arrears or in default of certain taxes, it would be noticed that the total financial burden on account of the implementation of a 50% fare discount scheme to the women passengers works out to be Rs. 59.69 crores and the same has been compensated by the State Government. Court found that State has acted in the larger public interest as against individual interest and does not, in any way, offend any constitutional provision or any of the statutory provisions. The bench also stated that the decision of concession in fare could not be held unconstitutional as the executive could make policy for a vulernable section of society. It also needs to be noticed that this is not the first time that concessional schemes have been introduced by the State Government and it is also not a case, where the Government of Himachal Pradesh is alone in the country, has been extending concessional schemes only to women and school going children, which was never objected to by the petitioner despite the same having been introduced way back in the year 2016. Even otherwise, the grant of concessional fare in favor of women and children is in consonance with the spirit of Article 15 of the Constitution of India.
The scheme for free bus rides or concessional fares to females and children is not new in the country. Such a scheme, as noticed above, was launched by the government of Delhi, sponsoring female passengers to travel free in DTC buses (both AC and Non-AC) by issuance of a “single journey free travel pass. A similar scheme was doled out by the Government of Punjab, wherein free bus travel for women in all non-AC interstate buses was introduced w.e.f. 1.4.2021 and even the State of Tamil Nadu followed such a scheme, which was made operative in 2022. It happens in a State where the State authorities give a variety of concessions on the basis of policies floated by them like the distribution of food grains at concessional prices to the below-poverty line cardholders. This cannot be termed as a loss of business or financial loss to the grocery shop owners dealing in food grains, and therefore could not be declared as unconstitutional. Rather, it is the duty of the state. According to the respondents-State, mobility has always been an important factor for socio-economic development access to safe, cheap, and reliable modes of travel, which is essential for women to engage in any economic activity. Realizing this, the Government of Himachal Pradesh decided to provide 50% concession to women passengers in public transport intra-State service and the objective to achieve social inclusion of women by facilitating greater mobility, enabling women to use public transport, and improving their access to a range of important necessities such as education and healthcare, Enhance the self-esteem and personal independence of women which will have a positive impact on the entire family, Facilitate and achieve wish women’s participation in all fields and Encourage women to get a better job away from their homes. The court held that perusal of the aforesaid provision would clearly go to show that such provisions can be made by the government, especially for women and children. Court also stated that A perusal of the notification dated 7.6.2022 would go to indicate that the same has been issued in the exercise of executive powers conferred upon the government under Article 162 of the Constitution of India. Till and so long the notification does not violate any provisions of law, the same could not be struck down, more particularly, bearing in mind and taking into consideration the spirit of article 15 of the Constitution of India. In such circumstances, the notification dated 7.6.2022 cannot be held to be unconstitutional merely on the ground that the same is causing financial loss to the petitioner particularly when it is a policy decision of the government to give conditional travel to the female passengers in HRTC buses. It has been admitted that the Corporation is a defaulter of payment of State Road Tax to the tune of Rs. 221 crores and not Rs.10,000-20,000 crores as alleged by the petitioner. Before issuing notifications Himachal Private Bus Operators Association on June 27, 2022, challenged the notification issued by Transport Secretary. The private bus operators’ association has alleged that the notification issued by the state government on June 7, 2022, is contrary to the principles of the norms that Transport should charge equal fares for women and men passengers. The issue of the Green Card by Road Transport Corporation has also been challenged before the State High Court by the association as in this matter it has been argued that they have to suffer due to the facilities like Green Card provided by Road Transport Corporation which offer concessional fare to other passengers. The court after hearing both parties also reserved judgment which was pronounced today. Court said in the operative part of the judgment that In view of the aforesaid discussions, we find no merit in the instant petition, and the same is accordingly dismissed and leaving the parties to their own costs.