A division bench of Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justice Sanjiv Khanna said: “We are obliged to certify that if an applicant is totally deaf, he has to be called for the test if he applies for a learner’s licence without medical certificate and if he passes the test as required under the rule, then he shall be granted the learner’s licence as that is the statutory requirement.”
“Similarly if a person is totally deaf but satisfies the necessary criteria, he shall be allowed to obtain the (permanent) driving licence,” said the bench.
The Motor Vehicle Act currently prohibits hearing-impaired persons from driving on the ground that they may pose danger to others.
The bench was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) by the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) seeking the court’s direction to quash the “no hearing impairment” stipulation for issuing a driving licence.
In its petition, the association contended that the deaf are allowed to drive all over the world except in 26 countries, including India, as Indian vehicles lack gadgets that vehicles in other countries are equipped with to aid deaf people drive.
The court, however, declined to direct the central government to label deaf persons as “special category” persons in the act and issue directions for fitting vehicles with special gadgets for deaf to avoid accident, and said the legislature is empowered to make such provision in the law.
“We are not inclined to direct that the special conditions which are permitted by other countries for grant of licence to the persons who are completely deaf as the same, we are disposed to think, is in the domain of the legislature, for the legislature understands the prevalent conditions in a set up where separation of power is an insegregable facet of the basic structure of the Constitution of India,” said the bench.
The petitioners submitted a representation Feb 22, 2007, to the surface transport secretary asking for issuance of driving licence to the deaf persons.
In response, the ministry April 10, 2007, said it was considering the matter of issuing driving licence to the deaf with the Automotive Research Association of India, the director general of health services and the National Road Safety Council. It said it was taking note of the Central Motor Vehicle Rules, 1989, and discussing the measure with the Technical Standing Committee.
Various other communications were sent to the ministry afterwards but no further response was obtained.