Telangana High Court: K. Lakshman, J., while addressing a very pertinent issue expressed that,
Intention of the Legislature is to reduce the accidents and deaths that may be caused due to driving of vehicles in intoxicated condition, and it is not the intention to harass the owners of the vehicles by detaining the vehicles for days together.
What has been challenged?
Power of police officers to seize the vehicle from its driver/rider, who is in an intoxicated condition.
Analysis, Law and Decision
High Court while analysing the submissions stated that as per Section 185(b) of the MV Act, 1988, whoever, while driving, or attempting to drive, a motor vehicle, is under the influence of drug to such an extent as to be incapable of exercising proper control over the vehicle, is punishable. Therefore, driving a vehicle in an intoxicated condition is an offence. Thus, a person in an intoxicated condition is barred from driving a vehicle.
As per Section 202(1) of the Act, 1988 if the police officer finds a person driving the vehicle in an intoxicated condition and if he/she considers that such person is not capable of driving the vehicle under such condition, he/she may detain or take steps for the temporary disposal of the vehicle.
Court in view of the Act, 1988, the Telangana Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 and the Central Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 stated that the Police Officers do not have the power to detain/seize the vehicles on the ground that the person driving the vehicle was found in an intoxicated condition.
Bench explained that, for instance, a person drives the vehicle alone and Police Officer finds him in an intoxicated condition and that such person is unable to drive the vehicle, then the Police Officer has the power to seize the certificate of registration and can detain/seize the vehicle and keep it in a nearest police station/appropriate place for safe custody. At the same time, it is the duty of the Police Officer to release the said vehicle either to the owner or to any authorized person who is not in drunken condition and who is in a position to drive the vehicle and holds a valid license. If there are two persons present in the car, the person driving the vehicle found in an intoxicated condition and the other person has a valid driving license and is found not in intoxicated condition and in a position to drive the vehicle, then the police shall not seize/detain the vehicle and permit the other person to drive the vehicle.
High Court elaborated further observing that Police Officers do not have the power to detain/seize the vehicles under Sections – 19 (1) (f), 185, 206, 207 of the Act, 1988 and Rule 21 (16) of the Central Rules. They have to release the vehicle in terms of Rule – 448A of the T.S. Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989.
Bench also noted the Supreme Court decision of S. Rajaseekaran v. Union of India, (2018) 13 SCC 516, wherein while considering the steep increase in the accidents and deaths due to driving of vehicles by the drivers in intoxication condition has issued several directives.
It was brought to the notice of this Court that the Senior Officials of the State are building up pressure on the officials of the Prohibition & Excise Department, Telangana State, to collect more revenue by sale of liquor. The said officials have also been building up pressure to collect more revenue through ‘drunk and drive’ by imposing challans.
Bench stated that the above approach of the State is not appreciable.
High Court expressed that,
It is the fundamental duty of the citizens to take all precautions to avoid road accidents and deaths and also to follow the guidelines issued by the State and the Central Governments from time to time on ‘road safety’.
Bench expressed that this Court had previously held that under the MV Act the Police Officers do not have the power to take custody of the vehicle driven under intoxicated condition and directed the authorities/officials who have custody of the vehicle in question to release the same on the production of certificate of registration relating to the said vehicle and on production of proof of identity and also a valid driving license.
Court issued the following directions to the Police Authorities:
(a) If the driver/rider of the vehicle is found under the influence of alcohol, he/she should not be allowed to drive the vehicle. However, if the police finds another person accompanying the driver/rider not in an intoxicated condition and having a valid driving license, shall permit such person to drive the vehicle without seizing/ detaining the vehicle, subject to Section 202 of the M.V. Act, 1988;
(b) If there is no other person other than the person who drives the vehicle in an intoxicated condition, then the concerned Police Officer or the intoxicated driver shall immediately inform any nearest relative or friend to take back the custody of the vehicle;
(c) If no one comes to take back the custody of the vehicle, then the concerned Police Official shall temporarily take possession of the vehicle, and keep the vehicle in the nearest police station or any other appropriate authorized place for safe custody. However, it is made clear that the Police do not have power to detain/seize vehicle on the ground that its driver/rider drove it in an intoxicated condition.
(d) The Police or any other Official who has the custody of such vehicle shall release the same either to the owner or any authorized person on production of certificate of registration (RC) of the said vehicle, proof of identity and a valid driving license;
(e) If the concerned Police come to a conclusion that prosecution of driver or owner or both is necessary, he shall file charge sheet against him/them before the concerned Magistrate within three (03) days from the date of seizure of vehicle. The vehicle shall be released by the Officer who detained it after prosecution is completed under intimation to the concerned Regional Transport Authorities;
(f) Magistrates are directed to receive the charge sheets within three (03) days from the date of seizure in compliance of Rule – 448-A (iv) of the Telangana State Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989 if the charge sheets are otherwise in order.
(g) The Police Officers of the State are directed to strictly follow the procedure laid down under Rule – 448-A of the T.S. Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989.
(h) If no one claims the custody of the vehicle, the police shall take necessary steps in accordance with law;
(i) Any breach of the above directives will amount to Contempt and necessary proceedings will be initiated against the concerned Police.
In view of the above, petitions were disposed of. [Prannoy Pandy v. State of Telangana, 2021 SCC OnLine TS 1426, decided on 29-10-2021]
Advocates before the Court:
For the Petitioner: P SHASHI KIRAN