High Court sets aside CJM’s order on seized coal-laden truck

Shillong, July 12: The Meghalaya High Court has set aside an order passed by the chief judicial magistrate (CJM) where an application seeking release of a vehicle, which was seized in Ri Bhoi District for illegally carrying coal was declined.

“Consequently, the petitions are allowed, and the impugned orders declining Zimma applications are set aside. The matters are remanded back to the trial Magistrate/Criminal Court to pass fresh order keeping in view the principles and guidelines enunciated above in accordance with law,” Chief Justice Ajay Kumar Mittal said in his order passed here on Friday.

The petition was filed by the owner of the heavy goods vehicle bearing registration No.ML-04 C 5666 which is a public transport.

On the basis of some source information, the police on February 6 had detained the said vehicle of the petitioner bearing registration No.ML-04 C 5666 on the highway proceeding from Umde-Ronghona at Ronghona which was loaded with coal.

A case under sections 188/420/120 B/109 IPC had been registered and the vehicle was seized in connection with this case.

The police claimed that the vehicle was loaded with coal without any valid documents and it was transporting the coal illegally. Further, the driver of the truck, namely, Thapskhem Dkhar had avoided the integrated check post of the Transport Department at Shangbangla with the intention to evade payment of royalty and tax.

Accordingly, the petitioner moved an application before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Ri-Bhoi District, Nongpoh praying for claiming interim possession (Zimma) of the said vehicle.

However, the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Ri-Bhoi District, Nongpoh vide impugned order dated February 13, rejected the said application.

The counsel for the petitioner inter alia submitted that the Chief Judicial Magistrate had erred in declining to release the vehicle bearing registration ML-04 C 5666 on Zimma. According to the learned counsel, FIR was registered on 06.02.2019, therefore, release of vehicle would be governed by Section 451 CrPC.

The order of the Chief Judicial Magistrate was assailed by contending that the genesis of the impugned order has been the order passed by the National Green Tribunal dated 04.01.2019, whereby, the Tribunal had made a recommendation to the Committee to consider that any cranes and trucks found involved in illegal mining or transportation shall also be seized and the same be released by the concerned District Magistrates only after recovering damages to the extent of 50% of the showroom price of the vehicle or equipment.

However, the Court said the order of the Tribunal dated 04.01.2019 and the report of the Committee in its seventh meeting held on 11.01.2019 nowhere carried any directions that the Judicial Magistrates/Criminal Courts shall not release the vehicles where they have been seized carrying illegal coal.

In other words, the order of the Tribunal dated 04.01.2019 and the proceedings of the Committee dated 11.01.2019 would not take away the power and jurisdiction of the Magistrate/Criminal Court to adjudicate on the issue of release of seized vehicles under Section 451 CrPC, it said.

The petitioner has claimed that he is only the carrier of the seized coal and that he had no role in the commission of the crime and that the alleged offence committed by the owner of the coal was without any knowledge of the transporter-petitioner. Accordingly, the petitioner was entitled to adduce material/evidence to prima facie establish his claim at the stage of deciding the application for interim custody of the seized vehicle under Section 451 CrPC.

“It is, thus, concluded that the Judicial Magistrate/Criminal Court has failed to exercise the jurisdiction vested under Section 451 CrPC,” the Court said.

While disposing of the revision petition, the Court also permitted the petitioner to approach the trial Magistrate for release of the vehicle under section 451 CrPC, who shall pass appropriate order thereon keeping in view the legal proposition noticed herein before in accordance with law.