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Property seized is deemed to be released if no action is taken by the authority within the prescribed time – Patna High Court

In the case of Wakil Sada Vs State of Bihar [Civil Writ Jurisdiction Case No.8621 of 2020] Patna High Court held that convenience of parties, especially during the time of Pandemic Covid-19 is of prime importance and it shall be open for the authority to hear the parties with the use of technology, i.e. Video Conferencing facility etc.

Petitioner had prayed for issuance of an appropriate writ/writs directing the respondent authority to release the vehicle of question which was hero splendor bike which had been seized in connection for offence u/s 30 (a) Bihar Excise Amendment Act 2016 for the alleged recovery of wine from vehicle of Petitioner.

The Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016 prohibits the manufacture, storage, distribution, transportation, possession, sale, purchase and consumption of any intoxicant or liquor, unless so allowed in terms of the Act. Under section 58 of the Act, power to issue an order of confiscation vests with the District Collector/Authorized officer, who upon receipt of the report of the seizing officer detaining such property is required to pass an order. The court had been flooded with several petitions solely on account of non-initiation of such proceedings of confiscation or passing of illegal orders with respect thereto. Also, on account of lack of parties pursing the remedies so provided under the Act.

Consequently, the court was faced with the following fact situations-

(a) where despite seizure, no proceedings for confiscation under Section 58 were initiated;

(b) where such proceedings were initiated but not concluded within a reasonable time;

(c) the parties after obtaining interim relief for release of “things” under orders passed in different set of writ petitions, did not participate in the confiscatory proceedings;

(d) where the order of confiscation was neither communicated nor the parties made aware of such fact, thus precluding them from filing appeal under Section 92 and Revision under Section 93 of the Act;

(e) proceedings initiated under Section 92/93 were not concluded within a reasonable time either on account of inaction on the part of the authority(s) or on account of non-cooperation of the private parties, be it for whatever reason. Resultantly, this Court from time to time has been passing several orders.

Learned counsel for the petitioner stated that the petition be disposed of in terms of the various orders passed by this Court, more so the orders referred. The petitioner relied on several cases like Manish Kumar Chaudhary versus the State of Bihar & Ors [CWJC No.3245 of 2017] and Md. Shaukat Ali Vs. The State of Bihar & Ors [CWJC No.20598 of 2019] where it was directed that, “In the event of the authority arriving at the conclusion, directing confiscation of the property, the petitioner shall positively file the appeal within the statutory period as envisaged under Section 92 of the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016 and the appellate authority shall positively decide the same within a period of two months thereafter.

If eventually, the appropriate authority arrives at a conclusion that the property is not liable to be confiscated, it shall be open for the petitioner to seek damages in accordance with law and have appropriate proceedings initiated against the erring officials/officers.”

Court directed that, “..all proceedings under Section 58 must positively be initiated/concluded within a period of ninety days from the date of appearance of the parties. Further, Appeal/Revision, if any, be also decided within a period of thirty days from the date of initiation, failing which the ‘things’ (vehicle/property/ etc.) shall be deemed to have been released in terms of several orders passed by this Court.”

Court held that, “Wherever confiscatory proceedings stand concluded and parties could not file the appeal/revision within the statutory period of limitation, as already stands directed in several matters, if they were to initiate such proceedings within next thirty days, the plea of limitation would not come in their way of adjudication of such proceedings on merit.”

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