1. This is a revision by Dhanna against an order of the Sessions Judge, Merta, dated the 31st March, 1954, by which he set aside the conviction of Dhanna under Section 411, I. P. C., but still ordered that the camel recovered from his possession be made over to the complainant Parsaram.
2. It appears that some time in January, 1952, a camel belonging to Parsaram disappeared from Bhajnagar where he had gone with his cattle and the camel for purposes of grazing. Parsaram made a report in thana Kishenganj but no trace of the camel was found then.
On the 13th August 1952 Parsaram happened to go to the cattle-fair at Parbatsar and there he found the camel in the possession of the petitioner Dhanna whom he recognized to be his. He immediately made a report and Dhanna was challaned, tried and convicted for an offence under Section 411, I. P. C., by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Parbatsar.
The Magistrate directed that the camel be handed over to the complainant Parsaram. The petitioner then went in appeal to the Sessions Judge, Merta, By his judgment dated the 31st March, 1954, the learned Sessions Judge acquitted the petitioner but maintained the order of the Magistrate that the camel be made over to the complainant Parsaram,
This is a revision from that order and it is contended that the learned Sessions Judge had fallen into a serious error in directing the possession of the camel being given to Parsaram when he had come to the conclusion that no case against Dhanna under S 411 had been established.
3. There is force in this revision. Under Section 517, Cr. P. C., when an inquiry or trial in any criminal court is concluded, it is the duty of the court to make a proper order for the disposal of any property regarding which an offence is alleged to have been committed.
Now, the ordinary rule is that where an accused person is acquitted of an offence in relation to such property and the property has been recovered from his possession, the court should order such property to be returned to him. If the court thinks it proper to depart from this ordinary rule, it must give its reasons for doing so and it is conceivable that such an order may properly be passed where the accused disclaims any connection with the property recovered.
Where, however, the case of the accused is, as in the present case, that he had purchased the property recovered from some third person and that third person also comes in evidence and supports the case of the accused, it cannot possibly be said that such a case falls within the ambit of any exceptional case under Section 517.
To my mind, it then becomes a case where the title to the stolen property becomes a matter of contest between two rival parties. I am clearly of opinion that in such a case where the accused stands acquitted., it is not a sound exercise of judicial discretion to order the handing over the property recovered to the complainant instead of the accused.
The ordinary rule that the property should be returned to the person from whom it was recovered should apply and the aggrieved party should be left to establish its title in the civil court. Learned Government Advocate drew my attention to - 'Muthiah v. Vairaperumal' : AIR1954Mad214 , decided by a learned single Judge of the Madras High Court. In that case a maternal uncle accused his nephew of having stolen certain jewellery and cash. The nephew was acquitted. There was a contest between the nephew and the uncle as regards the possession of the property recovered. The learned Judge came to the conclusion that the best course to safeguard the interests of both the parties was to direct the lower court to return the property to the complainant on his furnishing security to the satisfaction of the Magistrate.
Speaking for myself, I wish to say that I am not concerned with the actual decision arrived at by the learned Judge hut with the principle which has been laid down by him; and that principle in no way conflicts with what I have stated above. It was observed in that case that in normal circumstances on acquittal or discharge, the property should be returned to the person from whom it was seized and that it is only in exceptional cases, such as where the culprit has not claimed the property as his own or when there are cogent grounds to hold that the property could not belong to him or in similar other circumstances, it would be unreasonable to return the stolen property to the accused person.
As pointed out by me in the foregoing part of my judgment, I have no hesitation in saying that none of these exceptional circumstances are established in the present case. I may refer to another case - 'Karuppanan v. Guruswami' AIR 1933 Mad 434 (2) (B), of the Madras High Court in this connection, which clearly supports the view taken by me. In that case the defence of the accused who stood acquitted of the offence of theft or of dishonestly receiving stolen property was that he had purchased the bills which were the subject-matter of the offence for fair price and without any reason to suppose them to be stolen property.
The Magistrate ordered the bulls to be returned to the complainant taut on a revision to the High Court, this order was set aside, and it was held that where a person accused of theft was acquitted and claimed as his own the property seized from him by the police and alleged to have been stolen, it should be restored to him in the absence of special reasons to the contrary.
Reliance was placed upon a decision of Ran-kin C. J., in - 'Sattar Ali v. Afzal Mahomed' AIR 1927 Cal 532 (C). Having regard to these and other authorities bearing on the subject, therefore, the true principle seems to me to be that in cases of this kind, it is not the business of the criminal courts to engage themselves in nice questions of civil law, and a decision as to title in case of a contest is pre-eminently such a question, and at the best aggrieved party should be left to get a proper adjudication on such a point from a competent civil court.
4. In this view of the matter, I have no hesitation in coming to the conclusion that on the finding arrived at by the learned Sessions Judge, the proper order for him to pass was to direct the restoration of the camel to the petitioner Dhanna from whom it was recovered. It will be open to the opposite party Parsaram to seek his remedy in the civil court if so advised.
5. I, therefore, allow this revision, and set aside the order of the learned Sessions Judge and order accordingly.