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Ghaffor Bhai Nabu Bhai Tawar Vs. Motiram Keshaorao Bongirwar and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCriminal
CourtMumbai High Court
Decided On
Judge
Reported in1978CriLJ405; 1977MhLJ548
AppellantGhaffor Bhai Nabu Bhai Tawar
RespondentMotiram Keshaorao Bongirwar and ors.
Excerpt:
.....under the code of 1973. at this juncture i would also like to state that a view similar tcj the one of the allahabad high court has been taken by the andhra pradesh high court in balaji v. the requirements namely the non-production of the property, during enquiry or trial should be satisfied so as to en-able the magistrate to exercise the power under section 457. 9. thus, in the above two decisions, it has been held that if the property is not produced before the court, during enquiry or trial, the magistrate has no power to pass any order regarding its disposal. that commentary has reproduced the law commission's recommendation for the revision of old section 523 and it would be interesting to note as to what was that recommendation. it would therefore be better if section 523 (1)..........only when the property seized is not produced before a criminal court during an enquiry or trial. a magistrate under this section can make an order regarding the seized property only after the inquiry or trial is concluded and the seized property is in fact not produced in the inquiry or trial. he cannot make an order regarding the seized property under this section during the investigation of the case. under section 523 (1), criminal p. c, 1898 it was open to a magistrate to pass orders regarding the disposal of seized property during the investigation of the case. there is however no provision in the cr.pc 1973 similar to section 523 (1), criminal p. c, 1898. a magistrate has therefore no jurisdiction to pass orders regarding the disposal of seized property during the.....
Judgment:
ORDER

Gadgil, J.

1. The applicant has filed the present revision against an order passed by the Judicial Magistrate, First Class, Darwha, in Miscellaneous Criminal Case No. 1 of 1977, directing that truck No. MHV-5232 be delivered to Keshaorao Narayanrao Bongirwar (non-applicant No. 2 in this proceeding) on his executing a supratnama in the amount of Rs. 30,000/-. The supratnama is to contain a term that non-applicant No. 2 should produce the property whenever required.

2. Truck No. MHV-5232 originally belonged to the applicant (who is the original complainant). The truck was registered in the name of the applicant in the Regional Transport Officer's record. The applicant's ease in brief is that he obtained a loan of Rs, 9,000/- from non-applicant No. 2. He executed a blank form for the transfer of the truck in the name of non-applicant No. 2. However, the truck remained and continued in possession of the applicant. It is alleged that on Dec. 9, 1976, non-applicant no. 1 (who is the son of non-applicant no. 2) committed the theft of the said truck by removing it from the Ami bus station without the consent of the applicant. The applicant made a report about this theft to the police on Dec. 30, 1976. The police investigated the matter and the truck was attached from non-applicant No. 1. On Dec. 30, 1976, non-applicant No. 2 filed an application to the Judicial Magistrate, First Class, Darwha, alleging that he had purchased the truck from the applicant on March 21, 1976 and that he had been plying the truck since that time. He .stated in the application that the applicant has executed a sale-receipt and other documents for transferring the vehicle in the record of the R.T.O. His grievance is that the police seized the truck on the basis of an incorrect com- plaint of the complainant. He, therefore, prayed that the truck be returned to him.

3. The applicant resisted the application. He contended that he had not sold the truck to non-applicant No. 2 and that there was only a loan transaction of Rs. 9,000/-. According to him,., in connection with that loan transaction he has executed a sale chit in favour of non-applicant No. 2 and has also signed certain forms for transferring the vehicle in favour of non-applicant No. 2 in the record of the R.T.O. The applicant contended that in spite of this, the truck continued to be in his possession and he lost the truck on Dec. 9, 1976, as alleged in his complaint. He, therefore, prayed that the application of non-applicant No. 2 be dismissed. It was also alleged by him that the Court has no jurisdiction to pass any order as the investigation of the case was not complete till then.

4. The learned Judicial Magistrate, First Class, Darwha, heard this matter. The parties produced certain documents and advanced arguments. Thereafter the learned Magistrate came to the conclusion that non-applicant No. 2 has proved that he was entitled to possession of the truck and that an order in his favour was necessary. Accordingly an order has been passed and the applicant hag preferred this revision against that order.

5. The first contention that has been raised by Mr. Lambat for the applicant is that under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, a Magistrate has no power to pass any order regarding the custody of a property that has been attached by the police during the investigation. According to him, such a power was vested in the Magistrate Under Section 523 of the old Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, but corresponding new Section 457 does not empower the Magistrate to pass any such order. To appreciate this contention, it will be convenient to refer to the provisions of Sections 451, 452 and 457 of the Cr.PC 1973. Under Section 451, a Criminal Court is empowered to pass an order, during any enquiry or trial, for proper custody of the property that has been produced before that Court. Section 452 of the Code provides that a Criminal Court, on conclusion of an enquiry or trial, may pass an order for the disposal by destruction, confiscation or delivery to any person of any property that he has produced in that case. Then comes Section 457 and I would like to reproduce Sub-section (1) thereof. It reads as follows:

Whenever the seizure of property by any police officer is reported to a Magistrate under the provisions of this Code, and such property is not produced before a Criminal Court during an enquiry or trial, the Magistrate may make such order as he thinks fit respecting the disposal of such property or the delivery of such property to the person entitled to the possession thereof or if such person cannot be ascertained, respecting the custody and production of such property.

6. Mr. Lambat laid much stress on the above-mentioned underlined portion for purpose of submitting that in addition to seizure report being sent to the Magistrate, there are two more conditions that must be fulfilled before a Magistrate can pass an order under this section, viz., (1) that an enquiry or trial is pending in respect of that property, and (2) that the property has not been produced in such enquiry or trial. It was urged that the condition No. 1 is absent in this case inasmuch as the matter is still at the investigation stage and, as such, there is no inquiry or trial pending before the Magistrate. It is on this basis that an argument is advanced that the Magistrate hag no power to pass any order for delivering the goods truck in the custody of non-applicant No. 2. He has relied upon the decision of the Allahabad High Court in Nanno Mai v. Sher Mohammad Khan . In that case a truck was attached by the police on June 11, 1975 and an application was filed on June 17, 1975 for the release of the truck. The application was allowed on July 18, 1975. Until that time the investigation of that case was mot over and no enquiry or trial was pending in that respect. It is only on Nov. 14, 1975, that the charge-sheet was filed in the Court of the Magistrate. The order of release of the truck was challenged by the aggrieved party by filing a revision in the High Court. In the said decision Section 457 has been construed to mean that a Magistrate can pass an order under that section only after the enquiry or trial is concluded and that he has no power to pass an order regarding the disposal of the property when the case is at the stage of investigation. Shri Lambat relied upon para. 7 of the said judgment. It reads as follows:

A plain reading of Section 457 (1), Cr.PC 1973 clearly shows that it is applicable only when the property seized is not produced before a Criminal Court during an enquiry or trial. A Magistrate under this section can make an order regarding the seized property only after the inquiry or trial is concluded and the seized property is in fact not produced in the inquiry or trial. He cannot make an order regarding the seized property under this section during the investigation of the case. Under Section 523 (1), Criminal P. C, 1898 it was open to a Magistrate to pass orders regarding the disposal of seized property during the investigation of the case. There is however no provision in the Cr.PC 1973 similar to Section 523 (1), Criminal P. C, 1898. A Magistrate has therefore no jurisdiction to pass orders regarding the disposal of seized property during the investigation of a case under the Cr.PC 1973. There appears to be a lacuna in the Cr.PC 1973 in this regard. It ig however well settled that Courts cannot correct mistakes of legislatures and fill in lacuna in statutes. This hag obviously to be done by the legislature itself.

7. Mr. Lambat, therefore, urged that as laid down in the above-mentioned decision, the Magistrate was not entitled to pass the impugned order as the case was still at the investigation stage. Mr. Salve, the learned Assistant Government Pleader and Mr. H. S. Ghare, for the non-applicant 1 and 2, have submitted that the interpretation put by the Allahabad High Court on Section 457, Cr.PC is not correct and that the revision should not be decided on the basis off that decision. The Allahabad High Court has laid down two propositions, viz. (1) that a Magistrate can pass order only after the inquiry or trial is concluded, and (2) he cannot make an order during the investigation of the case. As far as the first point is concerned, Shri Salve submitted that the decision of the Allahabad High Court in that respect would make provisions of Section 457, Cr.PC redundant inasmuch as that contingency is already covered by Section 452 of the Cr.PC There is much substance in this submission. Under Section 452, Cr.PC a Magistrate is empowered to pass orders on conclusion of a trial or enquiry, with respect to the disposal of the property by destruction, confiscation and delivery. The wording of that section suggest that it is not necessary that the property should have been produced in Court. It would thus appear that wide powers have been given to a Magistrate Under Section 452, Cr.PC to pass any type of order which would be necessary in the interest of justice. In that background, Mr. Salve urged that the scope of Section 457 cannot be limited to mean that the Magistrate can pass orders under that section only after the conclusion of the enquiry or trial, According to him, such a construction would amount to duplication of a provision with respect to one and the same matter. I think that the submission made by Mr. Salve and Mr. Ghare is well founded. It will not be possible to put construction on Section 457 so as to make it synonymous with the 'provisions of Section 452, Cr.PC

8. As stated above, the Allahabad High Court has also held that the Magistrate has no power to pass an order regarding the disposal of the property when the case is at an investigation stage. The provisions of Section 523 of the old Cr.PC 1898 have been referred to by the Allahabad High Court and it has been observed that under that section the Magistrate had a power to pass orders regarding the disposal of the seized property during investigation. However, it was held that that similar power has not been continued under the Code of 1973. At this juncture I would also like to state that a view similar tcJ the one of the Allahabad High Court has been taken by the Andhra Pradesh High Court in Balaji v. State of Andhra Pradesh . The following observations in para. 21 of that judgment have been relied upon by Mr. Lamb at;

When the expression 'and such property is not produced before a Criminal Court during enquiry or trial' as provided in Section 457 of the new Code it should be understood that the power of the Magistrate for disposal of the property is restricted to the property not produced during enquiry or trial. The requirements namely the non-production of the property, during enquiry or trial should be satisfied so as to en-able the Magistrate to exercise the power Under Section 457.

9. Thus, in the above two decisions, it has been held that if the property is not produced before the Court, during enquiry or trial, the Magistrate has no power to pass any order regarding its disposal. Secondly, it is also held that such an order cannot be passed at the stage of investigation. Mr. Lambat submitted that these two decisions are in his favour and that the present controversy may be decided on the same lines, As against this, it was contended on behalf of the other side as also by Mr. Salve for the state that the interpretation put on Section 457, Cr.PC in these two decisions does not appear to be consistent with the wording and the meaning of that section. Mr. Ghare submitted that it would be necessary to note as to why the Legislature has modified the language while drafting new Section 457.

10. At this stage, it will be convenient to reproduce Section 523 (1) of the Cr.PC 1898. It reads as follows:

The seizure by any police officer of property taken Under Section 51, or alleged or suspected to have been stolen, or found under circumstances which create suspicion of the commission of any offence. shall be forthwith reported to a Magistrate, who shall make such order as he thinks fit respecting the disposal of such property or the delivery of such property to the person entitled to the possession thereof, or, if such person cannot be ascertained, respecting the custody and production of such property.' The reasons and objects for introducing Section 457, Cr.PC in place of old Section 523 has been discussed in Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, 7th Edn. by Chitaley. That commentary has reproduced the law Commission's recommendation for the revision of old Section 523 and it would be interesting to note as to what was that recommendation. It reads as follows :

Section 523 (1) deals with two different matters. First it lays down that seizure of property by a Police Officer shall be forthwith reported to a Magistrate in certain circumstances, and then it goes on to provide for the disposal of such property by the Magistrate.Seizure of property is to be reported by the police officer when it is either Under Section 51 upon searching an arrested person, or Under Section 550 which empowers any Police Officer to seize any property which may be alleged or suspected to have been stolen or which may be found under circumstances which create suspicion of the commission of any offence. There are various other sections in the Code which also empower the police to seize property, e.g. during the investigation of an offence, and most of these provisions contain the requirement that the Police Officer should report the seizure to a Magistrate. It would therefore be better if Section 523 (1) generally referred to all eases where the seizure of property by a Police Officer is reported to a Magistrate and not only to seizures Under Sections 51 and 550. Where such property is produced before any Criminal Court during the enquiry or trial, it will bo dealt with Under Sections 516-A and 522 (Ss. 451 and 456 now).

11. It would thus be clear that new Section 457 has been included in the Cr.PC 1973, so as to enlarge thei scope of 'the old Section 523. Shri Lambat, however, urged that in spite of this position, in fact the wording of Section 457 has restricted the scope of the powers of a Magistrate to pass orders when the case is at the investigation stage. He, therefore, urged that plain meaning be given to the wording of Section 457 and that such a construction would only mean that the Magistrate will not have any power unless the two conditions as mentioned earlier are available. He has placed more reliance on the words 'and such property is not produced before a Criminal Court during an enquiry or trial.' He then contended that these words would connote that the Magistrate could not have power unless this condition is fulfilled. Mr. Salve urged that the above-mentioned clause cannot be construed to mean that the Legislature intended to provide that (1) there must be an inquiry or trial and (2) that the property must not have been produced in that case. According to him, the importance is not to be attached to the pendency of a criminal case or inquiry. The emphasis is on the non-production of the property before a Court. He urged that as the non-production may arise on two counts, e.g., (1) the case is not till then filed in the Magistrate's Court and as such the question of production in that case does not arise, or (2) that the # case has been filed and the property has not been produced. There appears to be much substance in this contention. I have already observed that Section 457 has been introduced with a view to enlarge the scope of old Section 523. Section 457 does not specifically state that the Magistrate is prevented from passing any order regarding the custody of the property if the case is at the investigation stage. If the construction, as suggested by Mr. Lambat is accepted, I think that there would be a sort of vacuum or lacuna which the Legislature never intended. The position would be that a Magistrate could not be able to pass any order if the case is at the investigation stage and at the same time the investigating agency might not take any action to have appropriate orders about such property. I was not shown any provision from the Cr.PC or from the Bombay Police Act which gives a Police Officer a power to order disposal of the property during investigation and that too without the intervention of the Magistrate. That apart the propriety or correctness of the steps taken by police during investigation about the custody of the property can be considered by the Magistrate if a grievance is made in that respect. This is being discussed in the succeeding paragraphs of this judgment.

12. As far as interpretation of Section 457 is concerned, Mr. Ghare submitted that interpretation which would avoid inconvenience and which would be consistent with justice and equity should be accepted. He relied upon the following observations from Maxwell on Interpretation of Statutes, 12th Edn., pages 199, 201 & 203:

In determining either the general object of the Legislature, or the meaning of its language in any particular passage, it is obvious that the intention which appears to be most in accord with convenience, reason, justice and legal principles should, in all cases of doubtful significance, be presumed to be the true one. 'An intention to produce an unreasonable result is not to be imputed to a statute if there is some other construction available.' Where to apply words literally would defeat the obvious intention of the legislation and produce a wholly unreasonable result we must 'do some violence to the words' and so achieve that obvious intention and produce a rational construction. The question of inconvenience or unreasonableness must be looked at in the light of the state of affairs at the date of the passing of the statute, not in the light of subsequent events.

Where possible, a construction should be adopted which will facilitate the smooth working of the scheme of legislation established by the Act, which will avoid producing or prolonging artificiality in the law, and which will not produce anomalous results....' (Page 201).

Not only are unreasonable or artificial or anomalous constructions to be avoided; it appears to be an assumption (often unspoken) of the Courts that where two possible constructions present themselves, the more reasonable one is to be chosen. (203).

13. It will, therefore, be necessary to construe Section 457 after bearing in mind the above mentioned principles of interpretation of statutes. To highlight anomaly in accepting the interpretation as suggested by Mr. Lambat, Mr, Salve took an instance of theft of a milk van containing a huge quantity of milk. He submitted that in case such a milk van is stolen, and is immediately recovered by the police during investigation the position will be unreasonable if the owner of the milk is not able to get an order of the Court for the delivery of the milk immediately, or if the police do not hand over the milk to the owner, According to Mr. Salve, this instance will give an indication that an order which the Magistrate could have passed Under Section 523 of the Code will not be available Under Section 457 though the Legislature purported to enlarge the scope and powers of the Magistrate. It may be noted that Under Section 457 (2), a Magistrate is given power to order delivery of the property to a person who is entitled to its Possession. Of course, this would be possible if that person is known. What should happen if the said person is unknown is laid down in Sections 458 and 459. Section 458 covers cases where the property is not liable to speedy decay. However, Section 459 lays down that if the property is subject to such decay, the Magistrate has power to sell away the property and the sale-proceeds would be governed by Sections 457 end 458. It would thus be clear that the Magistrate is not without any power to pass an appropriate order with respect to the disposal or custody of the property even when the matter is at the investigation stage. It is argued on behalf of the State that such a construction should be put Under Section 457, Cr.PC which would remedy injustice. On the basis of this principle, I think that the words 'and such property is not produced before the Criminal Court during the inquiry or trial' should be construed to mean that all that the Legislature wants is that the property has not been produced before the Magistrate. Such non-production maybe on account of (1) the absence of any inquiry or trial, or (2) though the enquiry' or trial is pending, still the investigation agency has not produced it in the Court. I would, therefore, hold that the provisions of Section 457, Cr.PC are sufficiently wide so as to cover the case where the Magistrate is called upon to pass an order about disposal or custody of a property during investigation stage of a matter. Thus, the impugned order is not liable to be set aside simply because it was passed when the matter was under investigation and when no inquiry or trial was pending before the Magistrate,

14. It was next contended by Mr. Lambat that the order directing delivery Of the goods truck to non-applicant No. 2 is illegal and unjust and it needs to be set aside. According to him, the goods truck in dispute still stands in the name of the applicant in the record of the Regional Transport Officer. He further urged that this fact may be treated as a prima facie proof that the applicant is entitled to possession of the truck. It ' cannot, however, be forgotten that the case of non-applicant No. 2 is that as he has purchased the truck from the applicant and in that capacity he was possessing the same. It is true that the applicant has alleged that this dealing was not a genuine sale transaction and that it was only a loan transaction. It will not be possible to decide thi9 controversy in a summary proceeding like this. However, I feel that the applicant cannot rely upon the R. T. O. record alone for the purpose of substantiating his claim for possession. My attention was drawn to the decision of the Madras High Court in Ahmed Sahib v. Commr. of Police : AIR1970Mad220 wherein it has been laid down that the term 'the person entitled to the possession of the property' cannot be equated with actual possession, inasmuch as the person may be in unlawful possession of the property at the time the property was seized-from him. Shri Ghare did not dispute this proposition of law that what is material is as to which of the two claimants is entitled to possession of the property. It was next urged by Mr. Lambat that the provisions of the Motor Vehicles Act would be relevant while deciding the two rival claims. He relied upon the decision of the Himachal Pradesh High Court in Sudarshan v. Chuha Singh . In that case the provisions of Section 31 of the Motor Vehicles Act have been considered and it is laid down that where the transferee fails to make any application to notify the registering authority the fact of transfer, the transferor cannot be blamed if the registration is not transferred. I am not able to see as to how this case would help Mr. Lambat. On the''contrary, it has also been held in that case that it will not be correct to say that a sale of a motor vehicle i9 not complete unless the registration certificate is transferred. Section 31 comes into play only after the vehicle has been transferred. It is true that the Gujarat High Court in Bai Mangu v. Bai Vijli : AIR1967Guj81 has held that the person in whose name the vehicle stands with the registering authority is entitled to custody of it unless any other person establishes his superior title. In the present case, the learned Magistrate has come to the conclusion that non-applicant No. 2 has proved that the applicant has executed the sale receipt in favour of non-applicant No. 2 and on that basis non-applicant No. 2 is entitled to possession. Thus, the learned Magistrate has considered the question as to whether non-applicant No. 2 has superior title though the registration record still continues to be in the name of the applicant. The effect of omitting to get the vehicle entered in the name of the the transferee has also been considered by the Madras High Court in the South India Insurance Co. Bombay v. Lakshmi : AIR1971Mad347 . The relevant head note is in the following words : at p. 347 L. N. of H. N.

Change of registry Under Section 31 is not a condition precedent for transfer of ownership of vehicle. That section merely imposes obligation both on transferor and transferee to notify transfer. It does not invalidate transfer as such for non-compliance with that section.

In this revision it will not be open for the applicant to urge that the order in question should be set aside simply because other view is possible. Ordinarily the revisional Court would be slow to interfere with the order of the Magistrate unless it is shown that the order is perverse or without evidence or not tenable according to law. No such case has been made out by the applicant and, as such, this revision is dismissed and the rule is discharged.


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