1. There is no substance in this appeal and hence it is dismissed summarily.
2. Since this appeal raises a short point of law, the learned Advocate-General desires that I may dispose of the matter by a speaking order for the guidance of the forest department.
3. The question arises under these circumstances: It appears that certain forest produce was alleged to have been used, by the respondent-accused thereby committing an offence under Section 26(f) of the Indian Forest Act. The forest officer thereafter in exercise of the powers conferred on him under Section 68(1)(a) of the Act, took an undertaking in writing from the respondent-accused to pay the amount of compensation mentioned in the said undertaking. The respondent-accused having failed to honour his undertaking the State prosecuted the accused for an offence under Section 26(f) of the Indian Forest Act.
4. The accused pleaded not guilty to the charge and claimed to be tried.
5. On the evidence led in the case, the learned Magistrate held that even factually the prosecution has not proved that the accused has done any of the acts mentioned in Section 26(1)(f) of the Act viz. to fell, girdle, lop, tap or burn any tree or strip off the bark or leaves from or otherwise damage the same. It was however submitted by the State that in any event since the accused had given an undertaking to pay the amount of compensation that should be sufficient to bring home the offence under Section 26(1)(f) of the Indian Forest Act. The learned Magistrate rejected that submission by relying on the provisions of Section 68(2) of the Indian Forest Act and acquitted the accused.
6. The correctness of the said order of acquittal is challenged in this appeal.
7. Section 26 of the Indian Forest Act, 1927, deals with acts prohibited in the forests. After having dealt with the prohibited acts, Sub-section (1) of Section 26, makes all these acts punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to six months or with fine which may extend to five hundred rupees, or with both, in addition to such compensation for damage done to the forest as the convicting Court may direct to be paid.
8. Section 68 in so far as it is material, is to this effect:
68. Power to compound offences.-(1) Subject to the provisions of Sub-section (3), the State Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette,empower a Forest Officer-
(a) to accept from any person about whom reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed any forest offence, other than an offence specified in Section 62 or Section 63, payment of a sum of money or, at his discretion, an undertaking in writing to pay a sum of money, by way of compensation for the offence which such person is suspected to have committed, and
(b) when any property has been seized as liable to confiscation, to release the same on the payment of, or at his discretion, on acceptance of an undertaking in writing to pay, the value thereof as named by such officer.
(2) On the payment of, or on acceptance of an undertaking in writing to pay, such sum of money, or such named value, or both, as the case may be, to such officer, the suspected person, if in custody, shall be discharged, the property, if any, seized shall be released,and no further proceedings, other than those under Section 82 where necessary, shall be taken against such.person or property.
9. It would therefore appear that in respect of offences under Section 26 or any offence other than those mentioned in Sections 62 and 63, it is open to the Forest Officer empowered by the State Government to compound the offence by accepting from the person about whom reasonable suspicion about his having committed an offence exists, payment of a sum of money or in his discretion an undertaking in writing to pay a sum of money by way of compensation for the offence which such person is suspected to have committed. Again, according to Sub-section (2), on the payment of such sum of money or on acceptance of an undertaking to pay such sum of money, the suspected person if in custody has to be discharged and the property if seized has to be released, and what is more important is that in respect of such offences no further proceedings other than those under Section 82 where necessary, shall be taken, against such person or property. In other words, Sub-section (2) provides that when once an offence has been compounded either by the acceptance of money or by taking an undertaking no proceeding except as provided in Section 82 could be taken.
10. Section 82 which deals with recovery of money due to Government, reads as under:
82. All money payable to the Government under this Act, or under any rule made under this Act, or on account of the price of any forest-produce, or of expenses incurred in the execution of this Act in respect of such produce, or on account of compensation or value of property agreed to be paid under Section 68 may, if not paid when due, be recovered under the law for the time being in force as if it were arrear of land revenue.
11. It is, therefore, clear that when an undertaking is taken by a Forest Officer under Section 68, and the person suspected of having committed an offence does not obey that undertaking all that could be done is to recover the amount mentioned in the undertaking as an arrear of land revenue under Section 82 and no further proceedings other than those specially mentioned in Section 82 could be taken. In other words, Sub-section (2) of Section 68 read with Section 82 would clearly show that once an undertaking is taken and the offence is compounded no proceedings either civil or criminal could be taken in respect of the said offence and the only remedy of the State is to fall back upon Section 82 and to recover the amount mentioned in the undertaking as if it were an arrear of land revenue. That being the position, I see no reason to interfere with the order of acquittal and the appeal is, therefore, dismissed summarily.