1. The petitioner is a dealer in foodgrains. On 24-1-1973 he was found transporting 360 bags of rice in three lorries. The petitioner as well as the drivers of the lorries were prosecuted before the Judicial 1st Class Magistrate, Tirupati in C. C. No 19 of 1975 for contravention of cl. (3) of the Andhra Pradesh Paddy and Rice (Restriction on Movement) Order, 1970 read with Ss. 7 and 8 of the Essential Commodities Act The learned Magistrate acquitted the accused. A Criminal Appeal No. 730/1976 was preferred by the State to this Court which was dismissed on 13-8-1977. Meanwhile, the District Revenue officer also proceeded under S. 6-A of the Essential Commodities Act and as he was satisfied that there was a contravention of the order referred to above he directed confiscation of the goods seized. The petitioner preferred an appeal to the Judicial authority namely Sessions Court, Chittoor under S. 6-C of the Act. His appeal was dismissed and the order of confiscation was confirmed.
2. In the course of certain interlocutory proceedings in a writ petition filed in this Court by the petitioner there was a direction to return the goods to the petitioner. As the order of confiscation of the District Revenue Officer was confirmed on appeal, the District Revenue Officer issued a notice in March 1977 directing the petitioner to pay Rupees 31,591.96 being the value of the rice confiscated but released to him under the directions of the High Court. The petitioner has filed this writ petition challenging the said notice. His contention is that as the prosecution for violation of the order resulted in an acquittal it is incumbent upon the District Revenue Officer to return the goods confiscated or the value thereof if the goods are not available and therefore he is not entitled to call upon the petitioner to return the value of the goods.
3. In support of the above contention Sri Innayya Reddy, learned counsel for the petitioner relies on S, 8-C (2) of the Essential Commodities Act which is in the following terms:
'Where an order under S. 6-A is modified or annulled by such judicial authority, or where in a prosecution instituted for the contravention of the order in respect of which an order of confiscation has been made under 5. 6-A, the person concerned is acquitted, and in either case it is not possible for any reason to return the essential commodity seized such person shall be paid the price therefor as if the essential commodity had been sold to the Government with reasonable interest calculated from the duty of the seizure of the essential commodity; and such price shall be determined'
It is submitted that as the prosecution instituted for the contravention of the order in respect of which an order confiscation has been made under S. 6-A ended in an acquittal the petitioner is entitled to the value of the goods in view of the clear language of the Section I am of the view that this contention is to be upheld. It is true that the order of confiscation was upheld by the Judicial authority in the appeal under S. 6-C(1), but at the same time the prosecution for contravention of the order in respect of which the order of confiscation is made ended in acquittal. Therefore, by reason of the second part of S. 6-C(2) the petitioner is entitled to the value of the goods.
4. The learned Government pleader endeavored to argue that the conjunction 'or' in S. 6-C(2) should be read as 'and. ' He submitted that both the conditions laid down in S. 6-C(2) must be satisfied, namely, that the order under S. 6-C is modified or annulled by the Judicial authority in an appeal under S. 6-C(1) and the prosecution for contravention of the order must have ended in an acquittal. It is only in such a case the petitioner is entitled to the price of the confiscated goods under S. 6-C(2). 1 find no difficulty in rejecting this submission. If it was intended that bath the conditions must be satisfied there was no difficulty for the legislature to use the expression 'and' instead of 'or'. On the other hand I am of the view that there was a definite purpose in using the expression 'or'. The legislature obviously felt that even if the order of confiscation was affirmed in appeal. it still the prosecution for contravention ended in an acquittal, the person concerned should be given the benefit of such acquittal and be paid the price of the good. The learned Government Pleader submitted that if this interpretation is given, the order of the appellate authority confirming the confiscation in appeal would be a dead letter and this Court should not place a construction which would had to such result. It is however to be noticed that the provision authorising confiscation is a drastic one and S. 6-C(2) enables the petitioner to receive the price of the goods in certain contingencies. In regard to such a provision it well accepted that Court should place I construction which is in favour of the subject. Further as I have already pointed out the conjunction used is 'or' and unless there are compelling reasons to read 'or' as 'and' it is well settled that any ward should be given its natural meaning. I have therefore no doubt in holding that in spite of the fact that the order of confiscation is confirmed by the appellate authority in appeal under Section 6-C(1). if the prosecution for contravention of the order respect or which the order of confiscation has been made has resulted in acquittal, the petitioner would be entitled to the price of the goods under the clear terms of Section 6-C(2). It is incongruous that on one hand there is an order of an appellate authority confirming confiscation which has become final and an the other hand there is an order of acquittal. It is more so, as the appellate authority is also the Sessions Court. In many cases the order of acquittal may be only that of a Magistrate for it is possible that no appeal may be preferred against the order of acquittal and the final order would be that of a Magistrate only. In such a case it would lead to a Judicial Magistrate's order of acquittal overriding an order of confiscation of a Sessions Judge in appeal under S. 6-A. But such considerations cannot weigh with this Court in giving effect to the clear language of a particular section.
5. I find that in a similar situation this Court also held that the goads were not liable to be confiscated as the prosecution ended in an acquittal vide order of the single Judge in A. Kotiratnam v. State. : AIR1974AP207 (FB) at p. 2N after the matter was sent back after the decision of the Full Bench in the case, though there is no discussion on this aspect of the case. In public Prosecutor (A.P.) v.L.Ramayya, 1975-1 Andh WR 133 at p.152:(1975 Cri LJ 144 at p.154) (FB), it is pointed out that in regard to a criminal prosecution there will be an elaborate procedure there will be an elaborate procedure by taking evidence; whereas the confiscation proceeding are summary and that is why they are made subject to the result of any prosecution that may have been instituted for the contravention of the order.
6. For the above reasons the writ petition is allowed. But in the circumstances without costs. Advocate's fee Rs.150/-.
7. Petition allowed.