By Sunil Garodia
The Supreme Court has ruled that the power of a police officer to seize any property under section 102 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC) while conducting a criminal investigation does not include the power to seize any immovable property. In fact, the court was of the opinion that a police officer cannot "attach, seize and seal" any immovable property during such an investigation. However, the court clarified that there was no bar on the police from seizing documents/papers relating to immovable property as it is obviously different from seizing the property itself.
In a majority judgment, the full bench of the Bombay High Court had ruled that the police did not have powers to seize immovable property under section 102 of CrPC in the case Nevada Properties Pvt Ltd vs State of Maharashtra. When appeals were preferred in the apex court, the case was referred to a three-member bench as it was felt that the issue was of great importance.
The relevant portion of Sec 102 of CrPC says that "Any police officer may seize any property which may be alleged or suspected to have been stolen, or which may be found under circumstances which create suspicion of the Commission of any offence." The question before the court was whether "property" here included immovable property too.
The court said that "Section 102 postulates seizure of the property. Immovable property cannot, in its strict sense, be seized, though documents of title, etc. relating to immovable property can be seized, taken into custody and produced. Immovable property can be attached and also locked/sealed. It could be argued that the word 'seize' would include such action of attachment and sealing. Seizure of immovable property in this sense and manner would in law require dispossession of the person in occupation/possession of the immovable property, unless there are no claimants, which would be rare. Language of Section 102 of the Code does not support the interpretation that the police officer has the power to dispossess a person in occupation and take possession of an immovable property in order to seize it. In the absence of the Legislature conferring this express or implied power under Section 102 of the Code to the police officer, we would hesitate and not hold that this power should be inferred and is implicit in the power to effect seizure. Equally important, for the purpose of interpretation is the scope and object of Section 102 of the Code, which is to help and assist investigation and to enable the police officer to collect and collate evidence to be produced to prove the charge complained of and set up in the charge sheet. The Section is a part of the provisions concerning investigation undertaken by the police officer. After the charge sheet is filed, the prosecution leads and produces evidence to secure conviction. Section 102 is not, per se, an enabling provision by which the police officer acts to seize the property to do justice and to hand over the property to a person whom the police officer feels is the rightful and true owner. This is clear from the objective behind Section 102, use of the words in the Section and the scope and ambit of the power conferred on the Criminal Court vide Sections 451 to 459 of the Code."
It is clear from the above that the court has made a clear distinction between the immovable property itself and the documents/papers of such property. In allowing the seizure of such documents, the court has inferred that they could be alleged or suspected to have been stolen or maybe found under circumstances which create suspicion of the commission of any offence and hence be a part of any criminal investigation. But the same cannot be said of the immovable property itself.
pic courtesy: MSN