K.K. Narendran, J.
1. Often vehicles, vessels or other conveyances are seized for the carriage of commodities in contravention of the provisions of various enactments. These conveyances are liable to be confiscated if in the enquiry that follows the offence is proved. Some enactments provide for an option to the owner to pay a fine of not less than one half of the value of the conveyance in lieu of its confiscation. The question that arises for consideration is whether the authorities can take their own time to conduct the enquiry resulting in the virtual destruction of the conveyance by the vagaries of weather or otherwise.
2. In these cases two lorries belonging to the petitioners were seized as early as 13-3-1982 for alleged contravention of the provisions of the Kerala Raw Cashewnuts (Procurement and Distribution) Act, 1982. The lorries are kept at the premises of the Noyyattinkara police Station. The petitioners challenged the seizure of the vehicles in original petitions filed before this Court. Along with the original petitions the petitioners moved civil miscellaneous petitions for the release of the vehicles. This Court by order dated 14-7-1982 directed the release of the vehicles on the petitioners furnishing bank guarantee for the value of the vehicles and rejected the request of the petitioners for release of the same on furnishing immovable property security. This Court also gave a direction that the enquiry in the matter should be completed within a month. The petitioners could not get the vehicles released as according to them they are not in a position to furnish bank guarantee.
It seems the petitioner challenged the order dated 14-7-1982 before the Supreme Court, but did not succeed. Now these petitions are filed for modification of the order dated 14-7-1982 and for the release of the vehicles without bank guarantee. It is stated in the affidavits filed along with the petitions that though the vehicles were seized as early as 13-3-1982, not only no enquiry has been conducted, the authorities have not even issued a notice to the parties for the enquiry. It is also averred that the vehicles left in the open will soon be reduced to scrap iron. The petitioners have also pointed out that though two months were over after the direction to complete the enquiry within a month, the 2nd counter-petitioner Revenue Divisional Officer has not complied with the direction.
3. The 2nd counter-petitioner Revenue Divisional Officer has filed a counter-affidavit. In the counter affidavit it is stated : The R. D. O. came to know of the direction issued by this Court on 14-7-1982 only on 22-9-1982 when he received a teleprinter message from the Liaison Officer. The delay in finalising the confiscation proceedings was primarily due to the fact that the question whether the raw cashewnuts carried in the vehicles were indigenous nuts or imported nuts is pending decision before this Court in two other original petitions. Six weeks' time may be given for passing final orders in the confiscation proceedings. The default in not complying with the Court's order be excused.
4. Vehicles seized may be confiscated or may not be confiscated. When confiscated, they become the property of the State and the same can be sold and the sale proceeds credited to the Government if the owner does not opt for the release of the vehicle on payment of fine where the law provides for such a course. When not confiscated, the vehicles will have to be released to the Owner. In cases where the owner is in a position to comply with the condition insisted for the release of the vehicle, the vehicle will be released to the owner pending the proceedings for confiscation. But in other cases the question of the release arises only after the proceedings for confiscation is over. It is common knowledge that these vehicles are kept in the open and left to the mercy of sun and rain pending orders in the confiscation proceedings. If unnecessary delay is caused, it goes without saying that these vehicles which are valuable property will be practically lost, why should this happen Even though no time limit is fixed for the completion of the confiscation proceedings by the enactments concerned, it is only proper that in public interest a time limit is fixed. According to me two months is reasonable time for completing the confiscation proceedings and passing orders in the matter.
So in all cases of seizure of vehicles, vessels and other conveyances for carriage of commodities in contravention of any law governing the matter, the proceedings for confiscation should be conducted and completed and orders passed within two months of the seizure. Simply because the particular enactment does not insist on any time limit, it does not mean that the authority concerned can take its own time. If there is a stay from a competent court it goes without saying that the period of stay can be excluded. If according to the authority who is to conduct the enquiry the pendency of a case before any court stands in the way of the enquiry the authority .should move that court and get clarification.
5. In this case the vehicles were seized as early as 13-3-82. The 2nd counter-petitioner has requested for only six weeks' time in the counter-affidavit filed on 6-10-1982 to complete the enquiry and pass final orders in the confiscation proceedings. If that is not done there will be a direction to the 2nd counter-petitioner to release the vehicles on immovable property security. This direction is given in view of the fact that the vehicles were seized as early as 13-3-1982 and the confiscation proceedings are yet to be completed.
The direction for release in the order dated 14-7-1982 is modified as above. The Civil Miscellaneous petitions are allowed to the above extent. No costs.