Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: The 3-judge bench of Ranjan Gogoi, CJ and Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna, JJ has held that the power of a police officer under Section 102 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 to seize any property, which may be found under circumstances that create suspicion of the commission of any offence, would not include the power to attach, seize and seal an immovable property. Khanna, J, writing the judgment for the bench, however, clarified,

“This, however, would not bar or prohibit the police officer from seizing documents/ papers of title relating to immovable property, as it is distinct and different from seizure of immovable property.”

The verdict came in a reference made by a Division Bench of Jagdish Singh Khehar and Arun Mishra, JJ vide order dated November 18, 2014, noticing that the issues that arise have far reaching and serious consequences.

Interpreting Section 102, the bench said that the 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. 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.

It further explained that the expression ‘circumstances which create suspicion of the commission of any offence’ in Section 102 does not refer to a firm opinion or an adjudication/finding by a police officer to ascertain whether or not ‘any property’ is required to be seized. The word ‘suspicion’ is a weaker and a broader expression than ‘reasonable belief’ or ‘satisfaction’. The police officer is an investigator and not an adjudicator or a decision maker. This is the reason why the Ordinance was enacted to deal with attachment of money and immovable properties in cases of scheduled offences.

“In case and if we allow the police officer to ‘seize’ immovable property on a mere ‘suspicion of the commission of any offence’, it would mean and imply giving a drastic and extreme power to dispossess etc. to the police officer on a mere conjecture and surmise, that is, on suspicion, which has hitherto not been exercised.”

It was further held that the disputes relating to title, possession, etc., of immovable property are civil disputes which have to be decided and adjudicated in Civil Courts. The Court said,

“We must discourage and stall any attempt to convert civil disputes into criminal cases to put pressure on the other side.”

Gupta, J wrote a separate concurring verdict where he highlighted that the Code of Criminal Procedure itself the Legislature has in various provisions specifically used the words ‘movable’ and ‘immovable’ property as opposed to the words ‘any property’ under in Section 102, hence, the phrase ‘any property’ in Section 102 will only cover moveable property and not immovable property.

[Nevada Properties Pvt. Ltd. State of Maharashtra, 2019 SCC OnLine SC 1247, decided on 24.09.2019]

Case BriefsSupreme Court

Supreme Court: Asking High Court to be more circumspect before it restrains an investigation under the statutory authority of the Director General of the Competition Commission, the bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud and Hemant Gupta, JJ remitted back a matter to Delhi High Court that dealt with the powers of search and seizures of the Director General of CCI.

Relevant Provisions
  • Section 41(3) of Competition Act, 2002 specifically incorporates a reference to Section 240A in its application to an investigation by the Director General under the provisions of the Competition Act 2002.
  • Under Section 240A, an Inspector who has reasonable ground to believe that books and papers of, or relating to, any company may be destroyed, mutilated, altered, falsified or secreted may apply to the Magistrate to secure an authorisation for the seizure of the books and papers.
Background
  • The Chief Metropolitan Magistrate allowed the application on 17 September 2014. The search operation was carried out on 19 September 2014.
  • An interim application was filed before the Delhi High Court in the pending writ petition for quashing the search and seizure and for the return of all documents, hard drives and laptops seized during the course of the search and seizure operation and for a stay on the investigation.
  • The Delhi High Court, by its order dated 26 September 2014, stayed further proceedings before the Director General of Investigation.
  • Applying the provision under Section 240A of the Companies Act, 1956, the High Court had held that a reading of the order passed by the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate does not indicate any authorisation to the Director General to carry out any other exercise other than searching for relevant material.
Ruling

The Court noticed that the provisions of Section 240A do not merely relate to an authorisation for a search but extend to the authorisation of a seizure as well. Unless the seizure were to be authorised, a mere search by itself will not be sufficient for the purposes of investigation.

It, hence, held,

“Having due regard to the provisions of Section 240A and the underlying purpose of Section 41(3), we are of the view that the blanket restraint which has been imposed by the learned Single Judge on the appellants utilising the seized material for any purpose whatsoever was not warranted. The High Court has blocked the investigation on an erroneous construction of the powers of the Director General.”

[Competition Commission of India v. JCB India Ltd., CRIMINAL APPEAL NO. 76-77 OF 2019, order dated 15.01.2019]