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P. Ramachandra Chetty Vs. Secretary, Ministry of Food, Govt. of India, New Delhi and ors. - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectCommercial
CourtAndhra Pradesh High Court
Decided On
Case NumberWrit Pets. No 1104 of 1973
Judge
Reported inAIR1979AP28
ActsEssential Commodities Act, 1955 - Sections 3; ;Andhra Pradesh Food Brains Dealers Licensing Order, 1969
AppellantP. Ramachandra Chetty
RespondentSecretary, Ministry of Food, Govt. of India, New Delhi and ors.
Advocates:A. Panduranga Rao, Adv.;K. Subrahmanya Reddy, Standing Counsel for Central Government and ;Govt. Pleader for C.T. and ;E. Manohar, Adv.
Excerpt:
.....of seizure of food grains to be quashed by issue of appropriate direction - contended that no reasonable belief that contravention of provisions of order or of conditions of any licence issued thereunder committed that would give jurisdiction or empower licensing authority or any officer specified in clause 11 of licensing order to enter and search premises formed - as no reasonable belief formed as to likelihood of any contravention committed - officers have no such power to make entry in premises and search - held, proceedings of seizure of food grains quashed. - - (c) x x x (d) seize or authorise the seizure any foodgrains in respect of which he has reason to believe that any of the provisions of this order or the condition of the licence issued thereunder has been is being..........nor any material is placed before the court to show that the officers concerned had any such reasonable belief either for entering or searching the premises or for seizing the foodgrains.4. a counter is filed by the district revenue officer traversing the above contentions.5. we would in the first place advert to the question of there being any reasonable relief for the vigilance officer to enter or search the premises be fore any seizure is effected. in fact the relevant record was not produced before us by the government pleader as it is reported that the said record is now filed before the session court where in appeal under s. 6-c of the essential commodities act is pending against the order of confiscation passed by the district revenue officer. thus, the record could not be.....
Judgment:

Narasinga Rao, J.

1. In this petition under Art. 228 of the Constitution of India, the petitioner seeks the proceedings of seizure of the foodgrains to be quashed by the issue of an appropriate writ or direction.

2. The petitioner is a licensed foodgrains dealer at Chittor. On 9th and 10th Feb 1973, the D.S.P. Vigilance Cell, Inspectors and other Revenue Officials entered the residence-cum-business premises of the petitioner, searched the premises and seized nearly 2000 bags of foodgrains. According to the officials that raided the shop, there was suppression of stock as compared with the details of the price list board exhibited in the shop. As per the board, the stock on hand was 287 bags of rice on 8-2-73. After the sale of 193 bags on 8-2-73, the opening balance on 9-2-73 we, 94 bags only but there was excess of 1820 bags. The officials thus allege that the petitioner contravened C1. 7-A of the A. P. Foodgrains Dealers Licensing Order, 1964. They, therefore, seized the excess stock.

3. The Petitioner among other grounds, also raised the contention that c1. 3(i) of the Essential Commodities Act under which the Foodgrains Order of 1964 is issued, infringes the fundamental lights guaranteed under Art 19(1)(i) of the Constitution The further contention is that cl. (6) and sub-cl of cl. (6) of the Andhra Pradesh Exhibition of price Lists of Goods Order, 1966 are in excess of the delegated power under S. 3 of the Essential Commodities Act. The far more important question raised is that it is only a reasonable relief that any contravention of the provisions of the order or of the conditions of any licence issued thereunder has been or is being, or is about to be committed, that would give jurisdiction or empower the licensing authority or any officer specified in cl. (11) of the Licensing Order to enter and search the premises and that only on such belief he could seize the goods, but in the instant case no grounds are either alleged in the counter, nor any material is placed before the Court to show that the officers concerned had any such reasonable belief either for entering or searching the premises or for seizing the foodgrains.

4. A counter is filed by the District Revenue Officer traversing the above contentions.

5. We would in the first place advert to the question of there being any reasonable relief for the Vigilance officer to enter or search the premises be fore any seizure is effected. In fact the relevant record was not produced before us by the Government Pleader as it is reported that the said record is now filed before the Session Court where in appeal under S. 6-C of the Essential Commodities Act is pending against the order of confiscation passed by the District Revenue Officer. Thus, the record could not be produced in spite of opportunity being afforded to the respondents.

6. The point for consideration is whether in the instant case, the officer that entered the premises may be said to have a reasonable relief before they entered the premises and searched it and later seized the commodities. Clause (11) of the A. P. Foodgrains Dealers Licensing Order, so far as it is relevant, reads us follows:-.

'11. Powers of entry search, seizure etc.: -- (1) The Licensing authority the Taluk Supply Officers the Asstt,. Taluk Supply Officers, all the Executive Officers of the Revenue Department not be low the rank of Deputy Tahsildars, all the Executive Officers of the Commercial Tax Department not below the rank of Asstt,. Commercial Tax Officers all the Police Officers of the Police Department not below the rank of Sub-Inspector Commissioner of Civil Supplies, Director of Civil Supplies or any other officer authorised by the State Government in this behalf, may with such assistance, if any as he things fit-

(a) x x x

(b) enter, inspect, break open and search any place or premises, vehicle of vessel in which he has reason to believe that any contravention or the provisions of those order or of the conditions of any license issued thereunder has been, is being or is about to be committed.

(c) x x x

(d) seize or authorise the seizure any foodgrains in respect of which he has reason to believe that any of the provisions of this order or the condition of the licence issued thereunder has been is being or is about to be contravened, along with the packages, coverings or receptacles in which such foodgrains are found or the animals, vehicles, vessels boats or other conveyances used in carrying such foodgrains ; and thereafter take or authorise the taking of all measures necessary for securing the production of the package, coverings receptacles, animals, vehicles, vessels, boats, or other conveyances so seized in a Court or before Collector and for their safe custody pending such production.'

Thus, cl. (11) specifically lays down that the class of officers specified the class of officers specified therein can only enter any place or premises when they have reason to believe that any contravention of any provisions of the Order or airy conditions of the licence has been or is being. or is about to be committed The averments in the counter-affidavit are apposite in this context. In para 9 of the counter-affidavit it is Stated: 'In reply to para 8, the inspecting officers had good reason to believe while effecting seizure that there are serious contravention's at the provisions of different central orders with a view to smuggle the rice outside the State.' This averment in the counter shows that the officers had good reasons to believe only at the time of effecting the seizure and not either at the time of entering the premises or making search of the premises. Clause (11) @) extracted above does not admit of any doubt that even at the time of entering or searching the premises, there must he reasonable belief that any contravention has been or is likely to be committed That reason to believe' is a condition precedent to vest any jurisdiction in the officers either to enter the premises or to make any search In the absence of such reasonable belief the entry and the consequent search been vitiated. The mere fact that subsequently they discovered some discrepancy in the stock on hand and the position of stock as entered on the board, cannot make good the belief which an officer is bound to initially before he makes an entry. The subsequent discovery of any material cannot be equated to the initial reasonable belief.

7. In Hindustan Aluminium v Controller, Aluminium, : AIR1976Delhi225 , it is held (at p. 234):--

'The reason to believe that any contravention of the Control Order had taken place is a precondition for seizure at aluminium goods and the reason to believe must relate to the period of time when the seizure was made. Any subsequent acquisition of believe in the regard would be of no avail.'

That was a case under the Aluminium Control Order made under the Essential Commodities Act. The provisions relating to seizure therein are similar to the effect that there must be reasonable belief about any likelihood of any contravention before the officer make, the seizure in that context it was held that the reasonable belief that a contravention had been committed was a pre-condition for the seizure.

8. In Collector, Central Excise v. L. K. N. Jewellers, : AIR1972All231 , it was held (at p. 234):--

'The condition precedent tar the application of S. 66 is the reasonable belief that the provisions of the Act have been or are being or are attempted to be contravened. The power then extends to the seizure of such gold in respect of which contravention has either been made or is about to be made. The section does not permit an indiscriminate seizure with a view to fishing out material to form a belief and justify it by reasons culled therefrom The belief must be of an honest and reasonable Person based upon reasonable grounds. It is not a matter of subjective satisfaction.'

It was thus held that a fishing or roving enquiry is not permissible to cull out material for formulating a reason to believe subsequently In other words, the reasonable belief must exist before the officer makes a seizure of the grounds under the above two cases. But cl, of A. P. Foodgrains Licensing Order also enjoins upon the requirement of reasonable belief before even an entry is made into the premises. Thus, under Order, unless such a reasonable be exists as to the likelihood of any contravention being committed or has been committed, there is no power in officers to make such an entry.

9. What is contended by the learned Government Pleader is that it is equally possible that after entering the premises or scrutinizing the account books and the price boards, the officer may have a reasonable belief . But as cl. 11(b) lays down that for the purpose of entering also there must be reasonable believe it is that reasonable belief that vests jurisdiction in the officer to enter the premises. From the counter-affidavit itself. it cannot be spelt out that any such reasonable belief existed enabling the officer to make an entry into the premises. There is also no other material from which it can be gathered that such reasonable belief could have been formed before the officers entered the premises. As noted the subsequent acquisition of any other material to justify the conclusion (would not be) of any avail, nor would it lustily the seizure or the search or even the entry on that ground alone the whole proceedings relating to the entry, search, and seizure are liable to be quashed and they are accordingly quashed.

10. The allegation of mala fides against the respondent are not pressed Even on facts, we do not find any merit in that allegation

11. As we are allowing the writ petition an the ground stated above, we need not advert to the other legal question raised. The Writ Petition is accordingly allowed with costs, Advocate's fee' Rs. 150/-.

12. The immoveable property security furnished by the Petitioner in pursuance of an interim order of this Court Stands cancelled.

13. Petition allowed.


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