Fake licences: Renewal won’t make it valid

Akshay Deep Singh, the owner of a TATA LPT-909 vehicle, had his vehicle covered under an insurance policy purchased from New India Assurance’s Kaithal Branch. The policy was valid from August 23, 2011 and August 22, 2012.

On January 28, 2012, while being driven from Ladwa to Kurukshetra, the vehicle was involved in an accident. Singh informed his insurer and subsequently submitted a claim, comprising Rs. 3,000 for towing charges and Rs. 2,28,319 for repairing the damaged car. The insurer then appointed a surveyor, who evaluated the loss at Rs. 1,85,579. On September 6, 2012, the insurer repudiated the claim on the ground that the driver of the vehicle did not hold a valid driving licence.

Aggrieved by the repudiation, Singh filed a complaint with the Kaithal District Consumer Forum. In its defence, the insurer maintained that the repudiation was warranted since Ramdhan Mewa Singh, the driver possess a valid driving licence. The insurer drew attention to the fact that the licence produced was first issued by the Hyderabad Licensing Authority, and was later renewed by the Kaithal Regional Transport Office (RTO) in Haryana. However, upon verification, it was discovered that the Hyderabad RTO had not issued such a licence, thereby proving the document to be a forgery.

Akshay countered that even if the original licence was counterfeit, its subsequent renewal by the Kaithal RTO, which had been done legitimately, made the licence legally valid, and hence the claim should be settled.

The District Forum backed Akshay's complaint, directing the insurer to settle the claim by paying Rs. 1,85,579 for the assessed repair costs and Rs. 5,000 as compensation. The insurer challenged this order, but its appeal was subsequently dismissed by the Haryana State Commission.

Unsatisfied with the decision, the insurer failed a revision petition challenging the orders of the District Forum and the State Commission. In its judgment, the National Commission pointed out that there were four RTO offices in Hyderabad, but the surveyor had only sought clarification from one that the driving licence had not been issued by it. It pointed out that Singh should have made an effort to verify the authenticity of Ramdhan's driving licence, but he had not done so. Moreover, it noted that Akshay did not even take the plea that he had employed Ramdhan under the misconception that he possessed a valid licence. Given that Singh chose not to contest the revision proceedings lodged by the insurer, despite having been awarded and paid the cost of defence, the Commission felt that it had no option but to accept the insurer's submission.

The National Commission further concluded that even a genuine and valid renewal cannot legitimise an originally counterfeit driving licence. Consequently, by its order dated July 6, 2023, delivered by Justice Sudip Ahluwalia and Inder Jit Singh, the National Commission deemed the insurer's repudiation to be justified. It set aside the orders of the District Forum and the State Commission and dismissed the complaint.

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