Crime, India, Stories

The fancy words you see on the number plates of vehicles is illegal


VIP Culture is a hot topic for discussion these days. From primetime debates on television to online petitions, it is being discussed like never before. VIP culture is evident in both the use of fancy lights on motor vehicles & also the use of various words on number plates. The Motor Vehicles Act of 1988 and the subsequent rules define the list of people entitled to use the lights, while, the use of any words on the number plate other than the registration number is not valid.


Down with VIP culture seems to be the theme of the season. From primetime debates on television to online petitions, discussion about VIP culture has occupied center stage. Nowhere is the VIP culture more evident, than with the beaming lights on the vehicles in the convoy of various officials & politicians. Not just lights, we often come across fancy words on the number plates. But according to the Motor Vehicles Act and the subsequent rules, using any word on the number plate, other than registration number, is not authorized and is illegal. Even with the use of red & blue beacons on the top of vehicles, there are clear rules and the directions by the Supreme Court.

The Red & Blue Beacons

Section 108 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 clearly defines the usage of Red, White & Blue Lights on top of Vehicles. In other words, not everyone is authorized to use the red light on top of the vehicle. This can be only be used by a vehicle carrying high dignitaries. The list of high dignitaries has to be defined by the Central and State Governments. Apart from these, ambulances are allowed to use the blinker type of red light.

fancy_number_plates_in_india_section 108 - 1

Apart from the red light, the relevant section also defines the use of blue light with flasher. It can be only used by the vehicles escorting high dignitaries as specified by the respective governments. Vehicles designated for emergency duties such as the Police department etc are allowed to use multi colored red, blue & white light.

fancy_number_plates_in_india_section 108 - 2

Gross Misuse of the Provision

Various state governments misused this provision by including all & sundry in the list as specified in section 108. The Supreme Court dealt with this issue in a Special Leave Petition (SLP) 25357/2010. The court in its judgment in December, 2013, held that the powers granted to the central & state governments to define a list of high dignitaries is valid. At the same time, the court also said that the list can contain only the holders of those posts, positions and offices specified in the Constitution. The court also directed the States & Union Territories not to enlarge the scope of the term “high dignitaries” beyond what is prescribed. Thus the states were given 3 months time to come up with a new list that conformed to these guidelines. The court also stated that these lights can only be used while the specified dignitary is on duty, otherwise it has to be covered with a black cover.

fancy_number_plates_in_india_supreme court ruling

Following this order, various states modified the list of dignitaries who are authorized to use either red or amber light. States like Maharashtra, Delhi modified their lists accordingly.

Who can use the Red light then?

The Central Government has defined a list of high dignitaries who are authorized to use the red light via notifications issued in 2002 & 2005. Holders of the following posts are authorized to use the red light

Red light with flasher on the top front of vehicle, while on duty anywhere in the country

  • President;
  • Vice President;
  • Prime Minister;
  • Former President;
  • Deputy Prime Minister;
  • Chief Justice of India;
  • Speaker of the Lok Sabha;
  • Cabinet Ministers of the Union;
  • Deputy Chairman Planning Commission;
  • Former Prime Ministers;
  • Leaders of Oppositions in the Rajya Sabha & Lok Sabha;
  • Judges of the Supreme Court.

Red light without flasher on the top front of the vehicle, while on duty anywhere in the country:-

  • Chief Election Commissioner;
  • Comptroller & Auditor General of India;
  • Deputy Chairman Rajya Sabha;
  • Deputy Speaker, Lok Sabha;
  • Ministers of State of the Union;
  • Members of the Planning Commission;
  • Attorney Journal of India;
  • Cabinet Secretary;
  • Chiefs of Staff of the three Services holding the Rank of full general or equivalent rank;
  • Deputy Ministers of the Union;
  • Officiating Chiefs of Staff of the three services holding the rank of Lt. General of equivalent rank.
  • Chairman Central Administrative Tribunal;
  • Chairman Minorities Commission;
  • Chairman, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Commission;
  • Chairman, Union Public Service Commission;
  • Solicitor General of India

Various states have defined their list of high dignitaries. Check out the relevant state list for more details. 

What about the use of words on the Number Plate?

We often find various words used on the number plate like advocate, doctor, government vehicle, judge etc. Section 50 & 51 of the Motor Vehicles act clearly prohibit use of any such words on the number plate except for the registration number.

fancy_number_plates_in_india_section 50 and 51 prohibit words

The Hyderabad Traffic Police had issued instructions to check various vehicles for these violations.

fancy_number_plates_in_india_hyderabad police notice

Next time you find someone using such unauthorized names, make a complaint with the Traffic Police. Remember Section 50 & 51 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.


About Author

Rakesh has been working on issues related to Right to Information (RTI) for a decade. He is a Data/Information enthusiast & passionate about Governance/Policy issues.

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