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This article has been written by Srishti Kaushal, from Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Patiala, Punjab. It discusses the provisions laid down in CrPC regarding the disposal of property relating to an offence, as well as case laws in this regard.

Introduction

When dealing with a criminal case, the police comes across various articles which are then seized by it. These articles are of utmost significance and act as evidence. These are presented before the court and become an important element in a successful trial. The term property applies to all such documents or articles which are submitted before the court and marked as documentary exhibits or material objects.

Once the trial ends, however, these articles or documents need to be disposed of. Chapter 34 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC) deals with this disposal. This process of disposal is governed by Section 451 to 459 of the code.

What kinds of properties are referred to in this chapter?

Chapter 34 of CrPC deals with disposal of 4 kinds of properties. This includes:

  • Properties or documents which have been used in committing an offence.
  • Properties or documents on which an offence has been committed.
  • Properties or documents which have been produced before the court.
  • Properties or documents which are in the custody of Police or Court.

These properties can be categorised as:

  • Articles found when arresting a person;
  • Those found under suspicious circumstances with regards to the commission of a crime;
  • Those which have been allegedly stolen.
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Why is the disposal of the property required?

To understand the importance of these sections, the explanation given by the Court, in Sunderbhai Ambalal Desai v. the State of Gujarat is essential.

Facts: In this case, it was alleged that while working at the police station in Gujarat, the accused replaced several articles, misappropriated a certain amount of money and conducted an unauthorised auction of property which was seized and kept in police custody pending trial. The learned counsel for the parties also submitted that many such articles are kept at the police station for a long period, which creates difficulties for keeping them in safe custody.

Judgement: The Supreme Court explained the object and scheme of the various provisions of the Code as to the disposal of case property. It was explained that the object and scheme of the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) with regard to the disposal of property is that where a property which has been the subject-matter of an offence is seized by the police, it must not be retained in the custody of the police or court, unless and till when it absolutely necessary to be kept with the court or police.

The ratio laid down, in this case, makes it absolutely clear that unless keeping of the case property is absolutely necessary, neither the court nor the police can retain the case property in its custody for any more time. Therefore, it becomes the duty of the court to pass appropriate property orders according to appropriate law without any delay

How is the property disposed of?

As per this chapter, the property can be disposed of by either destruction, confiscation or delivering or giving the property to a person claiming to be entitled to such property and thus restoring it to the dispossessed, selling it off etc.

These methods have been provided for in the various Sections dealing with this provision.

Section 451 of the Code of Criminal Procedure

Section 451 of the Code deals with the disposal of property before the conclusion of the case. Thus, this section deals with interim disposal of the property. According to this, when a property is produced before any Criminal Court during any inquiry or trial and according to the Court it is fit for it to be placed in proper custody before the trial or inquiry is concluded it can give an order for the same. Also, if the property is subject to speedy and natural decay, the Court may record necessary evidence and order it to be sold or disposed of.

The Section also clearly defines the property which can be disposed of with this regard as:

  • Property produced during inquiry or trial;
  • Property in regards to which an offence has occurred or which has been used for committing an offence.

The court must decide whether the property can be given for safe interim custody during the inquiry or trial based upon the facts and circumstances of the case. 

To understand the application of this case better, we can refer to the case of Abdurahiman v the Excise Inspector.

Facts: In this case, the petitioner challenged the court for rejecting the request for the interim release of his auto-rickshaw in connection to a crime whereby it was alleged that the autorickshaw was used for transporting contraband articles. However, the court denied the release under the Akbari Act

Judgement: On appeal, the higher court held that under Section 451 of CrPC and provisions of Akbari Act, either the magistrate or authorised officer has the jurisdiction to release any property, vehicle etc which was used for commission of an offence punishable under the Akbari Act, if the long detaining of the vehicle will cause prejudice to the owner. Accordingly, the appellate court ordered the lower court to reconsider its order and allow release.

Section 452 of the Code of Criminal Procedure

Now that we have discussed the disposal of the property before the conclusion of the trial, i.e., at the interim stage, let’s move on to the disposal of the property once the trial has concluded. 

  • As per Section 452, the Court may order for the disposal of property when a trial or inquiry into a Criminal Court has been concluded. This disposal may be by destruction, confiscation or delivery to any person who claims to be entitled to possess a property or document produced before the Court.
  • Sub Section (2) of this Section says an order made under Section 452 may be made with or without any condition that the possessor of the property would execute a bond (with or without securities) that he will restore such property to the court if the order made is modified or appealed.
  • Sub Section (3) explains that the Sessions Court may decide to deliver the property to the Chief Judicial Magistrate. 
  • Further, Sub Section (4) states that the order will not be carried for at least 2 months or if an appeal is presented until it is disposed of. However, in the case, the property is exposed to natural decay or is livestock or a bond has been executed in this regard, this rule would not apply.

It is also pertinent to mention here that under this Section, property includes not only the property which is in possession of the Court but also that is converted or exchanged.

A case in this regard is Thangam @Thangathammal v. The State

Facts: In this case, during the trial, the prosecution witness had filed and received an order in favour of him to obtain a property by way of interim custody. After the trial the accused (who was acquitted), now the petitioner filed an application stating that she is rightfully entitled to get possession of the property as it belongs to her. However, the lower court ruled against her, stating that the application was belatedly filled. 

Judgement: On appeal, however, the Madras High Court held that the order given by the lower court is not the correct one and an application can only be filed after the conclusion of trial under Section 452 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Thus, the petitioner filed such an application at the appropriate stage and the revision should be allowed.

Section 453 of the Code of Criminal Procedure

Section 453 is in regards to payment of money found on an accused to an innocent purchaser. This Section talks about the case where the accused is convicted of an offence which amounts to theft or stolen property and an innocent person who had no idea of the property being stolen. Such an innocent person can recover the money (at maximum equal to the purchase money) from the court by filing an application.  However, if no money is found on the convicted person, the court cannot order him/her or even the owner to make payment of purchase money to the innocent purchaser. 

Section 454 of the Code of Criminal Procedure

Section 454 of The Code deals with appeals against the orders given by the Court under Section 452 and 453. 

This Section states that any person aggrieved by the order given by a Court under Section 452 and 453 may make an appeal against it. On such an appeal, the Appellate Court may direct the order given by the lower court to stay or may modify, alter or annul the given order and make further orders which it considers to be just.

In the case of Thangam @Thangathammal v. The State discussed above, the petitioner approached the Appellate Court, i.e, the Madras High Court under this Section.

Section 455 of the Code of Criminal Procedure

Section 455 of the Code of Criminal Procedure is regarding the destruction of libellous or other matters. 

This Section basically states that if the court deems it to be fit, it may order the destruction of all the copies of a thing in respect to a conviction made under:

  • Section 292 of IPC (Sale etc. of Obscene books etc), 
  • Section 293 of IPC (Sale, etc., of the obscene objects to a young person), 
  • Section 501 of IPC(Printing or engraving matter which is known to be defamatory), and 
  • Section 502 of IPC(Sale of printed or engraved substances containing defamatory system) of the Indian Penal Code.  

Section 456 of the Code of Criminal Procedure

Section 456 is regarding the power of the Court to restore possession of immovable property. This Section states that if it appears to the Court that a person convicted of criminal force or intimidation dispossessed some person of immovable property, the court can order for recovery of such property to that person. This restoration can even be done by evicting the property by force from someone who possesses it. However, this restoration must be made within 1 month after the conviction. Further, Sub Section (2) states that the Court of appeal may also make such an order.

It is pertinent to mention here that this section only applies when:

  • The person convicted is convicted for the offence of criminal intimidation,
  • The person disposed of the property has been dispossessed because of this criminal force.

With regards to Section 456, an important case is Smt. Ganga and Others v. State of Rajasthan and Another. 

Facts: In this case, Ram Kumar was legally given physical possession of a room and staircase. However, the accused Champa Lal, Virendra Singh, Kamlesh and Parasram used force and intimidation to dispossess him from the same. Accordingly, the Court convicted them. During the course of conviction, Champa Lal died. The court decided that the fine imposed against Champa Lal must be realised from the property left by him. However, his legal representatives filed an appeal against this.

Judgement: The Court of appeal held that in case the accused has wrongfully dispossessed some property under Section 456 an order of restoration would survive even after his death and abatement of appeal. Thereafter, whoever would be in possession of said property including his legal representatives would be bound to restore it.

Section 457 of the Code of Criminal Procedure

Section 457 talks about the procedure to be followed by the police upon the seizure of property. 

This Section applies to the scenario when a property is seized by the police but has not been produced before the magistrate during the inquiry and/or trial. In such circumstances, on receiving a report or information regarding the seizure of the property, the magistrate can order for the disposal of property or delivery of such property to an entitled person.

Further, in the case of Ghaffor Bhai Nabu Bhai Tawar v. Motirao Kesaorao Bongirwar, The Bombay High Court explained that under this Section, a magistrate can make an order regarding the seized property only once the inquiry or trial has been concluded and the seized property has not been produced in the inquiry or trial. He cannot make an order regarding the seized property under this section while the investigation is still going on.

Section 458 of the Code of Criminal Procedure

Section 458 is regarding the procedure to be followed in case no person appears to claim the property within 6 months. It states that if:

  •  No person claims such property and is able to prove that the property belongs to him/her, and
  •  If the person from whose possession the property was obtained is unable to prove that the property was legally acquired by him.

then, the Magistrate can give an order directing the State government to dispose of the said property and deal with the proceeds obtained through the disposal in the manner prescribed.

Section 459 of the Code of Criminal Procedure

Section 459 is regarding the power to sell a perishable property. 

As per this, the magistrate can order for sale of a perishable property, which is subject to speedy and natural decay if:

  • The person entitled to it is unknown or absent,
  • The magistrate to whom the report of the seized property is given believes that the sale of the property would be better for the owner,
  • Value of the property is less than Rs. 500.

In such cases, the provisions of Sections 457 and 489 would apply with regards to the proceeds obtained from such sale.

Conclusion

The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 lays out, in detail, the procedure to deal with a property used for committing an offence or one pertaining to which an offence has been committed. It clearly lays down that the property must be disposed of as soon as possible, i.e., as soon as it is no longer absolutely required.

The property cannot be retained by the police unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. Section 451 to Section 459 of the Code clearly lays down the law pertaining to this and explains how the Magistrate should deal with the property. With this regard, it becomes a duty of the court to ensure that appropriate orders are passed for the disposal of the property.

References


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