M.Y. Eqbal, J.
1. In this writ application the petitioner seeks issuance of a writ of mandamus directing the respondents to release 1614 Cft. teak wood which was illegally seized by the Sessai police and, in the alternative, for imposition of penalty/ cost upon the responsible police personnel and for payment of compensation but indeed this exposed the highhandedness of the police officers and their conduct with the ordinary citizens.
2. The facts of this case lie in a narrow compass : On receiving information from the Circle Inspector, Sessai that the petitioner has cut teak trees from the land having Khata No. 189, Plot No. 3808, the officer-in-charge, Sessai seized 170 shal tress alleging that the said trees were cut without the permission of the authorities and, accordingly, a criminal case was registered being Sessai PS Case No. 36/95 corresponding to G.R. No. 278/95 under Section 406, 379 of the Indian Penal Code and 21-A of the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act. The police prepared seizure list and possession of those shal woods was taken by the officer-in-charge, Sessai police station. The petitioner took stand that the trees were cut from the raiyati land of the ancestor of the petitioner and those trees belonged to them. It was further stated that for removal of those trees no transit permit was required under law. The learned Judicial Magistrate, Gumla, by order dated 30.5.1996 passed in G.R. case No. 278/95, directed for the release of those woods in favour of the father of the petitioner on execution of bond of Rs. 50,000/- and a cash security of Rs. 25,000/-. The learned Judicial Magistrate also framed charge against the petitioner under Section 20 of the Forest Produce (Regulation and Trade) Act, 1984 read with Sections 5 and 379 of the Indian Penal Code. Finally the petitioner and another co-accused were acquitted in the aforementioned criminal case in terms of the
judgment dated 31.7.2001. After the judgment of acquittal the father of the petitioner who was also one of the accused, made a prayer ‘before the Judicial Magistrate, Gumla for release of the timber on the ground that the said wood was cut from their own land. The Magistrate again passed an order on 25.4.1997 for release of the seized wood in favour of the petitioner and the petitioner said to have furnished indemnity bond for the release of the wood. The Judicial Magistrate then issued release order directing the officer-in-charge, Sessai police station to return 278 pieces of wood in favour of the petitioner and his father. Inspite of the aforesaid release order the woods were not released in favour of the petitioner. The petitioner then filed a contempt petition vide Original Cr. Misc. No. 8/99 (R) before this court for non- compliance of the said order passed by the Judicial Magistrate.
3. This court disposed of the aforesaid contempt petition by order dated 31.1.2000 with direction to the Judicial Magistrate, Gumla to take action if the articles have not been released in favour of the petitioner. The Judicial Magistrate then issued show cause notice to Mr. Srikant Singh, officer-in-charge, Sessai police station and the State of Bihar filed his show cause. The petitioner also filed a petition in the light of the show cause alleging that the seized articles were not available at the police station and the same have been misappropriated by the concerned police officer. The Judicial Magistrate, after inquiry, passed an order on 18.3.2000 holding that the said wood has already been misappropriated by the police officers. The petitioner, therefore, contended that the police officers by misusing their official power misappropriated the seized articles and, therefore, the petitioner is entitled to compensation and appropriate action against the police officer.
4. The Superintendent of Police, Gumla filed a counter affidavit in this case, stating, inter alia, that on perusal of the records of Sessai police station it appears that the seized articles were entrusted to one Baiju Bhagat of village Chanda, PS Sessai. However, when the police officer visited the house of Baiju Bhagat for releasing the wood, Baiju Bhagat informed him that the seized woods were stolen by unknown persons.
5. Admittedly the woods were seized by the police and a seizure list was prepared and possession of those seized articles was taken by the police. It is also not in dispute that the petitioner was finally acquitted in the criminal case or the final order was passed by the Judicial Magistrate for the release of the seized articles. When the seized articles were not released inspite of the order passed by the Judicial Magistrate, the petitioner moved this court by filing contempt petition. The said contempt petition was disposed of on 18.1.2000 by a Bench of this court directing the Judicial Magistrate to take action against the police officer if the articles have not been released. The Magistrate, thereafter, issued show cause notice, held inquiry and passed final order on 13.3.2000 holding that the woods were misappropriated by the police officer posted at the time of institution of the case. This court, therefore, opined that in lieu of registering a case under Section 406 of the Indian Penal Code against the custodian, namely, Baiju Bhagat, a case should have been registered against the police officer posted at the relevant time for committing criminal breach of trust by misappropriating the woods. It further appears that in the meantime, the Superintendent of Police, Gumla requested the Additional Public Prosecutor to give opinion for future course of action in compliance of the order passed by the High Court and the Judicial Magistrate. The Additional Public Prosecutor, in his opinion, has mentioned that it was admitted by the officer-in-charge presently posted that there was sufficient space in the premises of the Sessai police station for keeping the seized articles but the seized articles were deliberately not kept in the premises by the then officer-in-charge which was allegedly given in the custody of an old Adivasi. The learned Additional Public Prosecutor also suggested for taking criminal action against the said police officer.
6. In para 11 of the counter affidavit filed by the Superintendent of Police it is stated that on the basis of the order passed by the Judicial Magistrate and the reports submitted by the Additional Public Prosecutor, Gumla, FIR has been lodged against one Awadhesh Thakur, A.S.I., Sessai police station under Sections 409 of the Indian Penal Code being Sessai PS case No. 81/2001 corresponding to G.R case No. 645/2001.
7. Taking into consideration all these facts the petitioner, in my opinion, has no concern with the issue whether the seized articles were stolen away from the custody of Baiju Bhagat or the articles were misappropriated by the police officials. But, however, prima facie it appears from the investigation report and other evidences that the seized articles have been misappropriated by the then police officer.
8. Be that as it may, the admitted position is that the seized articles have not been released in favour of the petitioner who was’ entitled to get back the seized articles and in that situation the petitioner would be entitled to compensation for the value of the goods. From the seizure list annexed with the writ application it appears that measurement of the seized teak wood has been mentioned and, therefore, whatever may be the quantity of the seized articles, the petitioner shall be entitled to the value of the said articles at the rate which was prevailing on the date when those articles were seized. The Judicial Magistrate is, therefore, required to assess the value of the seized articles and determine the value after giving opportunity of hearing to both the parties. The Judicial Magistrate, Gumla before whom the concerned case was pending, shall determine the valuation within six weeks from the date of production of a copy of this order. On determination of valuation of the seized articles, the respondent-State of Jharkhand shall pay the amount that may te determined by the Magistrate to the petitioner within a period of four weeks. The State of Jharkhand, through the department of Home or through the Director General of Police may proceed against the police officer/(S) who are found responsible for the loss and fix the liability and recover the amount from those erring officers.
9. With the aforesaid directions this writ application is disposed of.