The Supreme Court on Friday ordered a freeze on registration of all BS-IV vehicles sold before March 31 after it saw abnormally high sale of vehicles in the days leading up to March 31 when business across the country came to a standstill on account of a national lockdown announced in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Federation of Automobile Dealers (FADA) informed the Court that bulk of purchases was through online sale. Suspecting manipulation of figures, the bench of Justices Arun Mishra, BR Gavai, and Krishna Murari said: “Sales during lockdown is abnormally high. It appears under the guise of our March 27 order (permitting sale of BS-IV vehicles beyond March 31 to compensate for the lockdown) some fraudulent action has been adopted.”
The bench ordered FADA to supply full details of vehicles sold online as well as through showrooms. The matter will now be taken up on August 13.
An affidavit filed by the Ministry of Road, Transport and Highways (MoRTH) added to the Court’s suspicion. The Court asked the Centre to verify on its E-Vaahan portal, the number of BS-IV vehicles that were sold and registered in the period from March 12-31, 2020.
Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Aishwarya Bhati informed the Court that as per the figures provided by FADA, a total of 2,25,257 vehicles were sold. On verification it was found, 1,45,152 were granted permanent registration while 29,834 vehicles are still awaiting registration. Following the Court’s order, vehicles falling in this category will have to await registration till the next date of Court hearing.
Interestingly, data concerning 50,261 vehicles could not be located on the e-Vaahan portal. The Centre contacted the states which are yet to connect on e-Vaahan. These states/UTs include Andhra Pradesh, and few regional transport offices (RTO) in Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, Andaman Nicobar Islands, and Lakshadweep. Out of the missing data of 50,261, the Centre located the data of 10,324 vehicles in these states/UTs, but there is still no clue about 39,937 vehicles which have been shown as sold by FADA.
FADA counsel senior advocate KV Vishwanathan said, “We have received the Government affidavit late Thursday evening. We are still in the process of reconciling figures for which we need time. The members and non-members of FADA had complained that they were unable to log in the data on e-Vaahan at the relevant dates.”
The Court was surprised to find huge volume of BS-IV vehicles sale and registration as recorded in the Centre’s affidavit. According to MoRTH, between March 12 and March 31, the Vaahan portal recorded sale of 9,56,015 vehicles which included two-wheelers, three-wheelers, commercial and passenger vehicles. The maximum sale occurred on March 29 (78,525), March 30 (94,054) and March 31 (55,334).
The bench observed, “We are worried how sales could be so high during lockdown. How could this be….It appears they have manipulated the data. How could showrooms be open during lockdown?” FADA will have to answer these queries posed by the court before August 13. The court has already recalled that part of its March 27 order which allowed sale of BS-IV vehicles beyond March 31.