Orissa High Court: S. Muralidhar, CJ. issued directions regarding the ever-growing stock of seized vehicles and other properties in the various police stations in the State of Odisha
The instant petition was filed by a practicing Advocate in the nature of Public Interest Litigation concerned about the ever-growing stock of seized vehicles and other properties in the various police stations in the State of Odisha which are causing encroachment on the public road adjoining the police stations and are also turning to junk on account of neglect over several years. The petitioner sought urgent directions due to the fact that despite the provisions in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (Cr PC) and the decisions of the Court, including the Supreme Court of India, from time to time, the spirit of law has not been adhered to and this has led to an impossible situation where most police stations in Odisha are left with a large inventory of abandoned vehicles and other materials.
Additional Superintendent of Police, Crime Branch, Odisha disclosed that apart from a large number of vehicles lying for years together in the police station premises, there are other seized items including liquor, arms and ammunitions etc. which are lying at the police malkhana awaiting disposal. It is disclosed by the police that 19,149 vehicles have been seized in motor vehicle accident cases, dacoity cases, cases relating to the transportation of illicit narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
The order stated that although in accordance with the provisions of Section 457 Cr PC read with Section 452 Cr PC, some of the vehicles do get released during the pendency of the case, there are still a large number of vehicles which are awaiting disposal pursuant to the orders to be passed by the Courts.
The Court observed that Although there exist statutory provisions in the Cr PC and allied statutes to deal with the problem, and orders have been passed by the Supreme Court for their implementation, very little in actual terms has been done in Odisha to ease the pressure on the police malkhanas and thereby the Courts. This area appears to be by and large a neglected one and warrants immediate attention.
The Court issued following directions
Articles/properties in general
- Within one week of their seizure, properties seized by the police during investigation or trial are to be produced before the Court concerned;
- the concerned Court shall expeditiously, and not later than two weeks thereafter, pass an order for its custody in terms of the directions of the Supreme Court in Basavva Kom Dyamangouda Patil v. State of Mysore (1977) 4 SCC 358; Sunderbhai Ambalal Desai v. State of Gujarat (2002) 10 SCC 283, and General Insurance Council v. State of A.P. (2010) 6 SCC 768.
- In any event, no property will be retained in the malkhana of the Court or in the police station longer than a period absolutely necessary for the purposes of the case; if it has to be longer than three months, the Court concerned will record the reasons in an order but on no account will the period of retention exceed six months.
- In the event the property seized is perishable in nature, or subject to natural decay, or if cannot for any reason be retained, the Court concerned may, after recording such evidence as it thinks necessary, order the said property to be disposed of by way of sale, as the Court considers proper, and the proceeds thereof be kept in a separate account in a nationalized bank subject to orders of the concerned court.
As regards the vehicles, the following directions are issued:
(I) Vehicles involved in an offence may be released either to the rightful owner or any person authorised by the rightful owner after
- preparing a detailed panchnama;
- taking digital photographs and a video clip of not more than 1 minute duration of the vehicle from all angles;
- encrypting both the digital photograph and the video clip with a hashtag with date and time stamp with the hash value being noted in the order passed by the concerned court;
- preserving the encrypted digital photograph and video clip on a pen drive to be kept in a secure cover in the file and preferably also uploading it simultaneously on a server kept either in the concerned Court premises or in the server of the jurisdictional District Court
- preparing a valuation report of the vehicle by an approved valuer;
- obtaining a security bond.
(II)the concerned court will record the statements of the complainant, the accused as well as the person to whom the custody of the vehicle is handed over affirming that the above steps have taken place in their presence.
(III) Subject to compliance with (I) and (II) above, no party shall insist on the production of the vehicle at any subsequent stage of the case. The panchnama, the encrypted digital photograph and video clip along with the valuation report should suffice for the purposes of evidence.
(IV) The Courts should invariably pass orders for return of vehicles and/or accord permission for sale thereof and if in a rare instance such request is refused, then reasons thereof to be recorded in writing should be the general norm rather than the exception.
(V) In the event of the vehicle in question being insured, the concerned Court shall issue notice to the owner and the insurance company prior to disposal of the vehicle. If there is no response or the owner declines to take the vehicle or informs that he has claimed insurance/released his right in the vehicle to the insurance company and the insurance company fails to take possession of the vehicle, the vehicle may be ordered to be sold in public auction.
(VI) If a vehicle is not claimed by the accused, owner, or the insurance company or by a third person, it may be ordered to be sold by public auction.
The following general directions shall also be adhered to:
- The concerned Court may impose any other appropriate conditions which it may consider necessary in the facts and circumstances of each case.
- The Court shall hear all the concerned parties including the accused, complainant, Public Prosecutor and/or any third party concerned before passing the order. The Court shall also take into consideration the objections, if any, of the accused.
- If the Court is of the view that evidence in relation to the condition of the vehicle is necessary to be recorded even before its disposal in terms of the directions in paras 9 and 10 above, then such evidence be recorded, in the presence of the parties, forthwith and prior to disposal of the property.
- Special features of the property in question could be noted in the Court’s order itself in the presence of parties or their counsel. Besides, a mahazar clearly describing the features and dimensions of the movable properties which are the subject matter of trial could be drawn up.
- If a person to whom the interim custody of the property/vehicle is granted is ultimately found not entitled to it, and is unable to return it, its value shall be recovered by enforcing the bonds and the security taken from such person or recovering the monetary value from him as arrears of land revenue.
- As regards the directions issued in 16 (I)(c) and (d) is concerned, the Registry of the High Court will communicate to each of the District Judges the detailed Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) that is required to be followed. The directions issued in 16(I) (c) and (d) will become operational as soon as the said SoP is received by the concerned District Judge.
- Similar directions concerning the encryption of digital photographs and video clips will become effective on receipt of the SOP by District Judge from the registry of the High Court.
[Ashish Ranjan Mohanty v. State of Odisha, 2022 SCC OnLine Ori 510, decided on 31-01-2022]
Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.