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Champalal Ganeshmal Vs. the State of Maharashtra - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCriminal
CourtMumbai High Court
Decided On
Case Number Criminal Appeal No. 278 of 1969
Judge
Reported in(1971)73BOMLR540; 1971MhLJ763
AppellantChampalal Ganeshmal
RespondentThe State of Maharashtra
DispositionAppeal dismissed
Excerpt:
.....under section 124 of bombay police act theft or fraudulent obtaining must be by accused himself-goods fraudulently imported by smuggler whether property 'fraudulently obtained. ';under section 124 of the bombay police act, 1951, the theft or the fraudulent obtaining may be by anybody as the section does not speak of the accused himself obtaining possession. it is the possession of the property by the accused bearing the attribute, stamp or character of 'stolen' or 'fraudulently obtained' which is made penal and in respect of which the reasonable belief has to be entertained.;pratap baburao v. the state (1970) 72 bom. l.r. 411, disapproved. ;queen-empress v. dhanjibhai edulji (1895) i.l.r. 20 bom. 348 and rex v. lurie [1951] 2 t.l.r. 686, referred to.;smuggled goods are goods..........obtained'. we have no hesitation in saying this, viz. that smuggled goods are, at least, goods fraudulently imported.11. mr. jaisinghani for the appellant, however, contends that though smuggled goods may be described as property 'fruadulently imported' into india, they cannot be described as 'fraudulently obtained' within the meaning of section 134 of the bombay police act, 1951. in the first place, according to him, the importer does not 'obtain' them from anybody, and, therefore, the importer himself cannot be regarded as one who has fraudulently obtained the goods. secondly, he contends, nobody receiving or purchasing these goods from a smuggler can be regarded as having fraudulently obtained the goods from the smuggler because there is no fraud in honestly receiving or.....
Judgment:

Palekar, J.

1. This appeal comes before us on a reference by Kamat J. The appellant Champalal Ganeshmal had been convicted by the learned Presidency Magistrate, First Additional Court, V.T., Bombay, under Section 124 of the Bombay Police Act and sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for three months and a fine of Rs. 100.

2. The brief facts in the case are that on October 4, 1960, at about 5 p.m., the appellant was seen standing near the crossing of Yusuf Meherally Road and Abdul Rahman Street near Crawford Market. P.S.I. Bhambre accompanied by Police Constable Vithal Bapu Kamble (P. W. I.) was passing that way to make certain inquires. The movements of the appellant-accused excited their suspicion, and so they accosted him and asked him why he was standing there. The appellant stated that he was waiting for a friend. That did not satisfy the officers and so the appellant was searched in the presence of panchas. In the course of the search, two paper-packets were found in both the trouser-pockets of the appellant and each packet contained 10 brand-new wrist-watches of Sandoz make. The value of these watches was more than Rs. 2,000. Asked how he came in possession of these watches, the appellant could not give a satisfactory explanation. He was, therefore, taken to the Police Station and later charged under Section 124 of the Bombay Police Act, 1951.

3. The learned Magistrate found on the evidence that there was reason to believe that the watches were either stolen property or property fraudulently obtained, and since the explanation given by the appellant in Court was inconsistent and unsatisfactory, the appellant was liable to be convicted under Section 124 of the Act.

4. The appellant appealed against the order of conviction and sentence, and the appeal came, in the first instance, before Kamat J. The learned Judge also held that there was reason to believe that the watches being smuggled articles were property fraudulently obtained, and since there was no satisfactory explanation, the conviction was proper. In the course of the arguments, however, his attention was drawn to a recent decision of this Court in Pratap Baburao v. The State : (1970)72BOMLR411 , and it was contended before him that under Section 124 of the Bombay Police Act, 1951, the finding should be that there was reason to believe that the property in question was fraudulently obtained by the accused. Where that is not the finding of the Magistrate, the conviction was improper. That judgment was given by Mr. Justice Vimadalal sitting singly. It appears that Kamat J. thought that the decision required consideration by a Division Bench, and hence the reference.

5. Section 124 of the Bombay Police Act, 1951, is as follows :

Whoever has in his possession or conveys in any manner, or offers (or sale or pawn, anything which there is reason to believe is stolen property or property fraudulently obtained, shall, if he fails to account for such possession or to act to the satisfaction of the Magistrate, on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three months or with fine which may extend to one hundred rupees or with both.

The above section is practically a reproduction of Section 114 of the Bombay City Police Act, 1902, except that the word 'to' preceding the word 'act' in Section 124 is not present in Section 114. A mere reading of Section 124 will go to show that the word 'to' preceding the word 'act' in Section 124 is either a mistake or a printer's devil, for it is impossible to construe the section with the word 'to' preceding the word 'act'. It is obvious from the tenor of both Section 114 of the Bombay City Police Act, 1902 and Section 124 of the Bombay Police Act, 1951, that two kinds of cases are contemplated. One type of case is where the person is found 'in possession of anything' and the other type of case is one where the person 'conveys, or offers for sale or pawn'. It is the latter which is described in the section as the 'act'. The accused, by the second part of the section, has to account for such possession to the satisfaction of the Magistrate if he is in possession, and similarly, he is to account for the 'act' of conveying and offering for sale to the satisfaction of the Magistrate. Indeed, this part of the case is not very much relevant because admittedly the appellant was found in possession of the watches and there is no specific 'act' required to be considered.

6. The origin of this provision in law is to be traced to 2 & 8 Victoria C. 71, Section XXIV. It reads as follows :

And be it enacted, That every Person who shall be brought before any of the said Magistrates charged with having in his Possession or conveying in any Manner any thing which may be reasonably suspected of being stolen or unlawfully obtained, and who shall not give an Account to the Satisfaction of such Magistrate how he came by the same, shall be deemed guilty of a Misdemeanor,...

7. This provision in the English statute came to find a place in an Indian Statute of 1856. It is Section 85, Clause (1) of Act XIII of 1856. It is as follows :

Whoever has in his possession, or conveys in any manner, any thing which may be reasonably suspected of being stolen or fraudulently obtained, shall, if he fail to account satisfactorily how he came by the same, be liable to a penalty not exceeding one hundred Rupees, or to imprisonment, with or without hard labour, for any terra not exceeding three months.

(emphasis supplied).

It is clear from that provision that whereas in the Act of 1856 it was sufficient to reasonably suspect that the property was stolen or fraudulently obtained, by the enactment with which we are concerned, it is required that the Magistrate should have reason to believe that the article is stolen property or property fraudulently obtained. By this change, an effective departure is made in the degree of conviction necessary for the Magistrate. The words 'have reason to believe' are stronger than 'suspect' and they import the necessity of showing that the circumstances were such that a reasonable man must have felt convinced in his mind that the property with which he was dealing was stolen property or property fraudulently obtained'. Subject to that requirement, the section is practically the same as Section 35 of the Act of 1856 which came for interpretation before this Court in Queen-Empress v. Dhanjibhai Edulji I.L.R. (1895) Bom. 848. In that case the learned Judges observed as follows (p. 349):.It being a penal enactment which shifts the burden of proof of innocence at a certain point on to the accused, it has to be construed strictly. We arc of opinion that, before the accused can be called on to account for the property, there must be evidence amounting to proof to the satisfaction, not of the police officer or witness, but of the Court, that the accused possessed or conveyed a thing of which this may be predicated-we mean after judicial consideration by the Court-viz.' that the thing 'may be reasonably suspected of being stolen or fraudulently obtained'. This phrase is used as an adjective; and unless it applies, accused ought not to be called upon to account nor to be convicted. The phrase is different to that used about the information on which the police may under Section 98 proceed to search-'reasonable cause for suspecting, &c.;' The words in both sections imply reasonable grounds for suspecting that there has been a theft or fraud.

All that one has now to do in Section 124 of the Bombay Police Act, 1951, is to apply the principle of the above observations bearing in mind that while the older section required merely 'reasonable suspicion', under the present section, there should be 'reason to believe'.

8. Now, the facts as proved in the case were these: The appellant was standing near a busy thoroughfare near Crawford Market and his movements, whatever they were, were sufficient to excite the notice of the police officers who had gone there on a different errand. That they were suspicious about his movements cannot be doubted at all. Actually he was accosted and then searched. On being accosted, the first question they asked him was why he was standing there, and he replied that he was waiting for his friend, which, according to the appellant, during the course of the trial, was not a fact. On a search being made of his person, two paper-packets were found in the two trouser-pockets of the appellant. Each packet contained 10 new wrist-watches of the same foreign make. The value of these watches is admittedly more than Rs. 2,000. Naturally, the police were bound to ask the appellant how he got these watches, and the evidence of the Police Constable Kamble shows that he did not give any explanation which could satisfy them. Now, when a person is found in possession of 20 new wrist-watches of this value, his first reaction, on being questioned by the police, if his possession were genuine, would be to come out with a satisfactory explanation. In the course of the trial, the case of the appellant seems to have been that some unknown broker had come to him and sold these watches to him for Rs. 2,860 that same day at about 1 p.m. and that actually he had a bill with him, and that the same was lying at his place. Now, if this was really his case, his first reaction on being searched would have been to give this explanation. But it is obvious that no such explanation was given because when Police Constable Kamble was examined in Court, it was not even suggested to him in his cross-examination that this particular explanation was given to him. There were, therefore, these circumstances appearing in the evidence from which the necessary inference had to be drawn. The learned Magistrate came to the conclusion that there was reason to believe that the appellant was in possession of these 20 wrist-watches and they were either stolen property or property fraudulently obtained. However, in appeal, Kamat J. does not appear to have been very much satisfied that the watches could have been stolen property. In his opinion, these watches must have been foreign smuggled watches, and therefore, property 'fraudulently obtained', and since the explanation given by the appellant during the course of the trial was both inconsistent and unsatisfactory, the appellant was liable to be convicted.

9. It was contended by Mr. Jaisinghani on behalf of the appellant that there was really no evidence either before the learned Magistrate or before Mr. Justice Kamat to show that these watches were smuggled watches. But it must be remembered that Judges and Magistrates working in Bombay do not function in a vacuum. It is well known that the import of foreign watches, in full assembly, with the covering cases, dials, etc. is prohibited, and this is borne out by statutory regulations reproduced in the Red Books. We have before us the Red Books for the years April 1065 to March 1966 and April 1966 to March 1967 which show that the import of foreign watches or parts thereof was completely prohibited. The Red Book for the year April 1967 to March 1968 shows that only parts were permitted to be imported to a limited extent, but fully assembled watches with case, dial and hands were not permitted to be imported. In the year April 1968 to March 1909, the relaxation made in the previous year was-made stricter. Only movements and some parts were permitted to be imported to a limited extent, but the pillar-plate, base-plate, or chassis case, dial and hands were not permitted to be imported. In fact, they were banned. Now what was found with the appellant was a string of 20 brand-new watches of one make. Judges and Magistrates, like any other intelligent person in Bombay, know, that watches are smuggled into Bombay on a colossal scale. Judges and Magistrates have greater reason to know this because in the course of their duties, and also otherwise, such cases come to their notice. Against that background and experience of Judges and Magistrates a Judge would be right in believing that these particular watches were foreign smuggled property.

10. The question, however, remains whether smuggled property can be described as property 'fraudulently obtained' within the contemplation of Section 124 of the Act. The learned Government Pleader, who appeared on behalf of the State, submitted that smuggled goods fall appropriately within the description of 'property fraudulently obtained.'. Where import of any foreign article is prohibited or banned under the Customs Act, 1962, and the prohibited article is confessable under that Act (s. III), the import would be prima facie fraudulent in the sense in which the word 'fraudulently' is defined in Section 25, Indian Penal Code. Fraud lies in seeking an advantage by deceit. Under the Customs Act, 1962, no prohibited or banned article can be imported into India by anyone. On the other hand, every honest importer has to bring his goods through the Customs Check Posts, make a true declaration of the goods he is importing and obtain clearance of the goods after paying the duty imposed by statutory rules. (See Sections 7, 45, 46 and 47). The smuggler of banned goods avoids doing all this and brings the goods secretly and deceptively to gain an advantage for himself, and, therefore, such an act, prima facie, is a fraudulent act. Moreover, by secretly bringing the goods into India, he aims at preventing the lawful confiscation of those goods which, again, is fraudulent. Therefore, in the submission of the learned Government Pleader, smuggled goods fall within the description of property 'fraudulently obtained'. We have no hesitation in saying this, viz. that smuggled goods are, at least, goods fraudulently imported.

11. Mr. Jaisinghani for the appellant, however, contends that though smuggled goods may be described as property 'fruadulently imported' into India, they cannot be described as 'fraudulently obtained' within the meaning of Section 134 of the Bombay Police Act, 1951. In the first place, according to him, the importer does not 'obtain' them from anybody, and, therefore, the importer himself cannot be regarded as one who has fraudulently obtained the goods. Secondly, he contends, nobody receiving or purchasing these goods from a smuggler can be regarded as having fraudulently obtained the goods from the smuggler because there is no fraud in honestly receiving or purchasing the goods for a price. In the third place, Mr. Jaisinghani, relying partially on the decision of Mr. Justice Vimadalal in Pratap Baburao v. The State, referred to above contended that what is necessary to be shown, is that there is reason to believe that it was the accused who fraudulently obtained the goods. We are not impressed by these submissions. The word 'obtain' means according to Chamber's Twentieth Century Dictionary, 'to get; to procure by effort; to gain;'. In Murray's New English Dictionary, a number of meanings are given of the word 'obtain'. The very first meaning is 'to come into the possession or enjoyment of (something) by one's own effort, or by request;' 'to procure or gain, as the result of purpose and effort; hence, generally, to acquire, get.' The word 'obtain' is used in various well known contexts. One 'obtains a patent,' 'obtains a judgment', 'obtains a contract', 'obtains credit', 'obtains a loan', 'obtains a commission', or 'obtains a price'. In Rex v. Lurie [1951] 2 T. L.R. 686, the Court had to consider Section 32(1) of the Larceny Act, 1916, which said that 'every person who by any false pretence with intent to defraud obtains from any other person any chattel, money, or valuable security...shall be guilty of a misdemeanour.' The Court held that 'obtains' in that section means 'obtained the property and not merely the possession'. In our opinion, the nearest equivalent of 'fraudulently obtained' is 'fraudulently got or procured'. The smuggler who fraudulently imports goods, in effect, fraudulently gets or procures the goods, no matter from whom. If a smuggler were to be charged under Section 124, the goods found with him would be properly described as property 'fraudulently obtained', because he obtained or got possession of the same in India fraudulently or by deception.

12. As to the honest receiver or purchaser from the smuggler or his media, the point for consideration under Section 124 is not whether the accused honestly received or purchased the goods, but whether the goods are property 'fraudulently obtained'. The expression 'fraudulently obtained' like the other juxtaposed expression 'stolen' in that same section is the attribute, stamp or character of the 'property' found in the possession of the accused. If the property in his possession is capable of being described as 'stolen property', or property 'fraudulently obtained',-by whomsoever it might have been stolen or fraudulently obtained- that would be sufficient to comply with the requirements of the section. As the learned Judges observed in Queen-Empress v. Dhanjibhai Edulji, the words in the section 'imply reasonable grounds for suspecting that there has been a theft or fraud' (now, 'for believing that there has been a theft or fraud', according to Section 124). The point can be well illustrated. For example, goods in transit by rail are taken delivery of by 'A' by producing forged documents and subsequently 'B' is found in possession of the same. When the police find 'B' in possession of those goods, it is possible to predicate of the goods that they were 'fraudulently obtained', though not by 'B' personally. The section does not speak of the accused obtaining possession of property fraudulently but of property 'fraudulently obtained'. The reasonable belief is not in respect of the former but in respect of the latter. In Pratap Baburao's case, Mr. Justice Vimadalal seems to have been of the view that the accused should be shown to have obtained the property fraudulently. With great respect, that view does not appear to be correct. The Court has to ask the question whether it has reason to believe, on the evidence before it, that the property found in the possession of the accused is property which can be described either as 'stolen property' or 'fraudulently obtained' property. If the answer is in the affirmative, the requirements of the section are fulfilled, and it will be then for the accused to give a satisfactory explanation to the Court. The theft or the fraudulent obtaining may be by anybody. It is the possession of the property by the accused bearing the stamp of 'stolen' or 'fraudulently obtained which is made penal. Is there reason to believe that the property in accused's possession bears that stamp? That is the question, and the answer to it decides the issue.

13. We have, therefore, no hesitation in holding that there is reason to believe that these watches which were found in the possession of the appellant were such as could be appropriately described as having been 'fraudulently obtained'. So the only thing which is further necessary to see is whether the accused gave a satisfactory explanation. That part of the case has been considered in detail both by the learned Magistrate and by Kamat J. There is no profit in repeating that discussion. The version of the accused given from time to time, is inconsistent. What was not suggested in the cross-examination is suggested in the statement recorded under Section 342, Criminal Procedure Code, and what was suggested under that section is elaborated with fresh material in a written statement filed by the appellant about 13 to 14 days later. In fact, along with the written-statement, an alleged bill, exh. 'X' was produced to show that the watches had been purchased from one Prabhat Watch Company in Abdul Rehman Street. If Prabhat Watch Company was a regular dealer, there should be no difficulty in examining the manager or proprietor of that company. The appellant himself has admitted that he could not find this Watch Company at the address given. He is supposed to have purchased the watches from a broker who was a stranger to him and whose name he does not know. Having regard to all these serious inconsistencies in his explanation, the learned Magistrate was quite right in not accepting the explanation. It, therefore, follows that the conviction recorded by the learned Magistrate was correct.

14. Mr. Jaisinghani for the appellant submits that the sentence imposed was the maximum permitted under the law as the section stood at the time of the conviction. It appears that the section has now been amended and the maximum sentence is raised to one year with the qualification that except for reasons to be recorded in writing, the substantive sentence shall not be less than one month. We are not concerned with the amended section, and Mr. Jaisinghani is right in saying that the maximum punishment has been awarded to the appellant. On the other hand, we have no doubt at all that the learned Magistrate must have been very much impressed by the fact that the appellant was associated with smugglers who smuggled gold watches in Bombay on a large scale. It is not often that such people are caught, and, when they are, the only section of the Police Act under which action could be taken is Section 124 of that Act. There is, however, this much that can be said that the appellant is a first offender and the value of the property is about Rs. 2,000. We further find that at the time of the trial he was about 20 years old. In these circumstances, we reduce the sentence to one month's rigorous imprisonment maintaining the fine and the sentence in lieu thereof.

15. Subject to this modification in the sentence, the appeal is dismissed. Accused-appellant to surrender to his bail.


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