Calcutta High Court: Rabindranath Samanta, J. allowed a criminal revision petition which was filed aggrieved by the order of Magistrate wherein he had rejected the prayers made by the petitioners for return of two vehicles which were seized by the Deputy Ranger (Beat Officer), Bamonpokhari Range Office of the Forest Range, Kurseong Forest Range, Darjeeling.
A complaint was filed by the Range Officer before the Additional Chief Judicial Magistrate in pursuance of a complaint filed by Beat Officer to this effect that while on patrol of the forest area they seized one truck and one JCB machine and three persons were arrested under Sections 64 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927 and they were forwarded to the judicial custody after keeping them in the safe custody of Garidhura Police Station Out Post for the night. The aforesaid persons who have been arraigned as accused persons committed offence punishable under Section 26 (d) (g) of the Indian Forest Act, 1927. The accused persons, ultimately, were forwarded to the Court of ACJM and were released on bail.
Petitioner 1, owner of JCB machine and petitioner 2, owner of the truck had filed applications before the ACJM for return of the seized vehicles but their requests were turned down.
The High court had to decide whether the impugned order passed by the ACJM was sustainable in law.
Counsel for the petitioner submitted that the complaint filed by the complainant does not speak of any incident in which the aforesaid vehicles were involved in commission of any forest offence. He further argued that if no forest offence has taken place involving the aforesaid two vehicles, the concerned official cannot detain the vehicles.
Counsel for the State also submitted that as per the recent mandate of the Supreme Court the vehicles cannot be detained in the manner as those were detained by the forest official.
The Court after observing the seizure list noted that there was nowhere to be found as to what forest produce or property of the forest was seized during the seizure of the said two vehicles. On the contrary, it is the defence of the petitioners that the driver and khalasi of the vehicles parked the vehicles beside the river in the forest for the purpose of cleaning the vehicles and bathing.
The Court considered the Supreme Court decisions relied on by the Counsel of the petitioner in Sunderbhai Ambalal Desai v. State of Gujarat, (2002) 10 SCC 283 and General Insurance Council v. State of A.P., (2010) 6 SCC 768 wherein it was mandated that concerned court shall dispose of the prayer of any registered owner as to return of any seized vehicle to him/her expeditiously in order to avoid any damage to or diminishing of the condition of the vehicle.
The criminal revision was allowed directing the ACJM to return the vehicles on execution a bond of Rs. 50,00,000/- and 25,00,000/- each on the condition that they will produce the vehicles as and when the concerned Court will require.[Suraj Chettri v. Deputy Ranger, 2022 SCC OnLine Cal 640, decided on 10-03-2022]
For the Petitioners : Mr Arjun Chowdhury, Ms Protusha Dutta, Mr Bikash Singha
For the State : Mr Aditi Shankar Chakroborty, A.P.P., Mr Arun Kumar Sarkar