The law only prescribes maintenance of a minimum level of visual light transmission
Did the Supreme Court “err” in interpreting that the law does not permit use of sun films on vehicles' windscreens and only vehicle manufacturers can provide tinted glass with users having no right to alter the level of tint by affixing sun films?
Jurists and other experts in the State, who have analysed the Supreme Court's verdict, the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Rules 1989, and the technical specifications, say the verdict appears to have “erroneously interpreted Section 100 of the Rules, which prescribe the minimum level of transmission of visual light and specification for laminated safety glasses for preventing injuries due to damage.”
What the rule says
They categorically state that the rule only prescribes maintenance of a certain minimum level of transmission of visual light (commonly known as VLT) through these glasses and the Indian Standard technical specification for making these glasses safe, and not about the use or prohibition of sun films.
The former Advocate General B.V. Acharya points out that the rule clearly states that glasses should not have a VLT less than 70 per cent on the front and the rear windscreen and not less than 50 per cent on the side windows.
“However, the rule does not forbid the manufacture or use of glass with a higher VLT than the minimum prescribed, nor does the rule forbid altering the VLT level using films on the windscreens and side windows, so long as it is not reduced below the minimum level prescribed.
Hence, the rule gives absolute right to the user/owner of the vehicle to choose or alter percentage of VLT within the permitted range or limit and not to the manufacturer,” says Mr. Acharya.
Obviously, Mr. Acharya points out, manufacturers have, all these years, not reduced the VLT (or with the tint) in the permitted range at the manufacturing level, rightly leaving this option to the users. The ultimate right to select VLT level within the permitted limits should vest with users as it relates to comfort level of their eyesight.
The court rightly declined the petitioner's plea to ask the government to provide VLT of 100 per cent instead of levels prescribed saying that it cannot issue such direction, but later “erred” to state that the user cannot bring down VLT using sun films even as the law itself allows variation within the permitted range, Mr. Acharya said. By wrongly interpreting the rules, Mr. Acharya points out, the Supreme Court has virtually legislated a new law, having far-reaching consequences and with retrospective effect, which it is not competent to do.
‘Where is expertise?'
“If the government comes out with a wrong piece of legislation, people can approach courts for immediate remedy. But what will be the impact on the people if courts go wrong on matters having direct impact on citizens? Judges are not experts in all fields.
Hence, the courts, particularly the Supreme Court, will have to exercise self-restraint when it deals with issues that are in the domain of legislation on which it does not have any expertise and control,” he added.
Uday Holla, another former Advocate General, said the Supreme Court should have referred the issue to an experts' panel first.
‘Doesn't go deep'
Both he and Mr. Acharya said that the verdict does not delve into core aspect like for what purpose specific VLT level is prescribed by law, and the availability of vehicles with factory-fitted tinted glasses.
Moreover, the views, if any, of the Union Ministry of Road Transport are not recorded in what they termed as a “knee-jerk” verdict which followed the “undue claim” made in the public interest litigation linking use of sun films on windows of vehicles to the rise in crimes such as kidnapping, sexual assault and dacoity.
The Supreme Court had no support of either the statistics or a study on this aspect, Mr. Holla added. Both, however, made it clear that the use of sun films above the prescribed VLT limit should be dealt with stringently.
Mr. Holla said the VLT limit prescribed in the Motor Vehicles Rules is from the point of view of safety to ensure that the driver has sufficient visibility, both during day and night, of the surroundings and not for visibility into the vehicle.
“If there is a need to ensure a certain percentage of visibility from the outside into the vehicle from the security angle, then law has to be amended suitably on scientific basis and study,” Mr. Holla said and added that the verdict could be reviewed to set right the perception.