30 September 2020

When applicant is arrayed as accused because he is the owner of vehicle involved in sand theft crime then without swaying into the controversy of manipulation/mismatching of engine/chassis number, vehicle can be returned u/s.457 to him

It is indeed a matter having unpleasant history. The vehicle was seized for allegedly carrying stolen sand and was intercepted and seized and admittedly since its seizure it is laying in the premises of the police station concerned. Admittedly, the applicant is being implicated being the owner of the tractor. If such is the state of affairs, in the normal course, there would not have been any difficulty in straight away handing over the vehicle to him subject to usual conditions. It is trite that the Supreme Court time and again has expressed futility in allowing detention of vehicles during the course of the trial. One can fruitfully referred to the decisions in the case of Smt. Basava and Sunderbhai (supra).[Para No.12]

When applicant is arrayed as accused because he is the owner of vehicle involved in sand theft crime then without swaying into the controversy of manipulation/mismatching of engine/chassis number, vehicle can be returned u/s.457 to him

    However as can be discerned, the matter has become complicated because of changes in the chassis and engine numbers appearing on the tractor. The panchnama under which the tractor was seized mentions that at the time of such seizure the chassis number was appearing as "0065110367V1DH" and the engine number was appearing as "CO6014709VIDK013B". Apparently no photograph of such number as they were appearing on the chassis and engine were taken. The petitioner had applied for release of the tractor earlier to the present attempt by filing Criminal M.A. No.569/2017 but it was rejected since the numbers obviously did not tally. He preferred Criminal Revision No.220/2017. It was dismissed but a direction was given to the RTO to inspect and to register the vehicle. Pursuant to such a direction the Magistrate called upon the RTO concerned to undertake the inspection and to register the tractor since it was not registered till then with the RTO. It is apparent that the RTO thereafter undertook the inspection on 26.12.2018 (page 40) and submitted a report on the same date to the Superintendent of the Civil Court at Sillod. In addition he sent another letter dated 08.01.2019 (page 43). It was mentioned that the tractor was having chassis number and engine number which tally with the original numbers mentioned by the dealer on the Tax Invoice (Exhibit B). However, he also notice that the tractor was not in a road worthy condition and therefore for the reasons mentioned therein he was unable to register it because of various provisions contained in the Motor Vehicles Act and the Rules framed thereunder. It is in the backdrop of such state of affairs that now we are faced with the situation.[Para No.13]

    There can be apparently no dispute that whosoever may be the culprit, the petitioner and his aide, as the prosecution is now alleging or the Investigating Officer and his associates, as the petitioner is now alleging but some one has manipulated the numbers on the engine and the chassis of the tractor. When and at what point such manipulation was done and who is responsible for it is a matter which certainly will have to be gone into since an additional offence of forgery punishable under Section 465 of the Indian Penal Code has been included by the Investigating Officer.[Para No.14]

    But then simultaneously one cannot lose sight of the fact that even according to the prosecution the petitioner is the owner of the tractor which was seized and it was attached with the trolley. In Criminal Miscellaneous Application No.33/2018 the Magistrate has already released the trolley in his favour. There is an authorized dealer respondent No.2 which has come with a specific stand that he had sold a tractor with the number mentioned in the application to the petitioner. Even the respondent No.3 insurance company admits to have insured a tractor for covering a third party risk with the same engine and chassis number. Pertinently no one else has laid any claim to receive the tractor.[Para No.15]

    If such is the state of affairs, when the prosecution itself is alleging that is the owner of the tractor which has been seized, it can very well be returned to him instead of allowing it to be rusted further in the premises of the police station. Even the prosecutor was unable to reply as to what the prosecution would now do with that tractor if it was not to be returned to the petitioner. It is under such circumstances that without getting swayed away by the allegations and counter allegations about manipulation in respect of the chassis number and the engine number one will have to permit it to be returned to the petitioner, of course subject to suitable conditions so as to enable him to convert it into road worthy condition so that thereafter it can be duly registered and insured.[Para No.16]

Bombay High Court

Parmeshwar Shantaram Dudhe
State Of Maharashtra

Decided on 23/09/2020

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