The police will no longer be able to seize immovable properties while investigating serious offences such as land grabbing, organised crimes or economic offences.
This was the ruling of a three-judge bench of the Bombay High Court on Monday.
Section 102 of the Criminal Procedure Code gives power to the police to seize certain property which may be alleged or suspected to have been stolen.
“By definition of theft, immovable property cannot be ‘stolen’. As to ‘finding’ it under circumstances which create suspicion of commission of offence, it is difficult to conceive as to how immovable property itself could give rise to suspicion of commission of offence.”
Senior counsel Ashok Mundargi, who specialises in criminal cases, said police have recently been indiscriminately been seizing immovable properties under section 102.
A senior officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to media, said they generally don’t seize immovable properties. “If there is a seizure, it is done after obtaining order from the court,” said the officer.
Of the three judges, Justice BH Marlapalle said the police have the power to seize
immovable property in a dispute between private individuals.
Justice RC Chavan and Justice Roshan Dalvi said the police did not have the powers. The opinion of the two judges, being majority, prevails.
The high court was hearing a petition by Pune-based developer Sudhir Karnataki, 51, seeking release of his property.
Karnataki’s advocate, Kunal Cheema, argued that the property was seized by a 2009 order of the commissioner of police based on a compliant by Professor Yeshwant Natu, 63.
According to the judges: “There have been several civil wrongs which have been treated as crimes also, for which both civil remedies are available… this does not mean civil remedies are abolished or cannot be resorted to, or can be treated as inefficacious.”
Justice Marlapalle chose to differ. “It may make the investigations of a crime as an exercise in futility and hamper the powers of the court to do complete justice in the course of the trial of crimes.”
Justices Chavan and Dalvi said the police are overburdened with criminal matters.
“The proportion of conviction in criminal courts in India is miniscule as compared to number of charge sheet filed. There is a growing tendency to add to burden of already inadequate police force. Without augmenting their strength and without enhancing their skills to deal with new type of work that is passed on to them, there would be even more failures,” observed the court in its 173 page judgment.
Justice Marlapalle observed: “Section 102 will be rendered toothless and result in complete denial of justice and it may cripple the trial. It may result in complete denial of justice to the victims of crime. More particularly to the victims of organised blood crime. We cannot allow the trial courts to become powerless in their duty to do full justice to the victims of crime.”