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The Appellant Is Entitled To An Opportunity Of A Fair Hearing Before A Court Of Law Prior To The Final Order Of Confiscation And Auction Of His Seized Vehicle: Supreme Court

Ifrah Murtaza ,
  03 June 2024       Share Bookmark

Court :
Hon’ble Supreme Court of India
Brief :

Citation :
Criminal Appeal No 2562 of 2024

Case title:

Pukhraj v. State of Rajasthan

Date of Order:

14th May, 2024

Bench:

Hon’ble Mr. Justice J B Pardiwala

Hon’ble Mr. Justice Manoj Misra

Parties:

Appellant: Pukhraj

Respondent: State of Rajasthan

SUBJECT: 

The instant case before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India (hereinafter referred to as ‘the Supreme Court’) was an appeal concerning the confiscation and auction of a dumper (truck) owned by the appellant which had been seized under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985. The appellant contested the trial court’s order stating that his right to a fair hearing had been compromised as his vehicle was confiscated before he was given a chance to be heard. The Supreme Court set aside the trial court’s order as it was in violation of the procedure under section 63 of NDPS that the appellant deserved a right to be heard. 

IMPORTANT PROVISIONS:

The Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (CrPC):

  • Section 299

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985 (NDPS): 

  • Section 63
  • Section 15
  • Section 25
  • Section 29
  • Section 8

OVERVIEW:

  • An FIR was filed against the appellant and another accused, namely, Pukhraj and Ram Bishnoi, at the Shambugarh Police Station, for offenses under sections 8, 15, 25, and 29 of the NDPS. 
  • Contraband was seized by the police from a vehicle owned by the appellant. 
  • During the investigation, the appellant was absconding. He was also absent from the subsequent legal proceedings which resulted in his trial being separated from the co-accused as per section 299 of CrPC. 
  • On 22nd February 2021, the trial acquitted the co-accused by giving them the “benefit of doubt” and ordered for the dumper (vehicle) to be confiscated and auctioned. The proceeds of the auction were directed to be deposited in the State Treasury. 
  • The appellant was eventually arrested and subsequently released on bail, after the acquittal of the co-accused.
  • The appellant contested the trial court’s that his vehicle was confiscated without giving him an opportunity to be heard, as the vehicle owner. He claimed that the trial court’s order was in violation of section 63 of NDPS which mandates a hearing before confiscation. 
  • The appellant filed a Revision petition in the High Court of Jodhpur, claiming that the trial court’s order was in violation of section 63 of NDPS which mandates a hearing before confiscation. 
  • The High Court upheld the order of the trial court and rejected the revision petition.
  • The appellant has now brought the matter before the Supreme Court.

ISSUES RAISED:

  • Whether the court was within its rights to order the confiscation of the appellant’s vehicle before allowing him to be heard?

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE APPELLANT:

  • The appellant’s right to a fair hearing was infringed when the trial court ordered his vehicle to be confiscated without him being heard. 
  • Section 63 of NDPS lays down that the court must give any person claiming a right to the seized property a chance to be heard before making an order of confiscation, but the court violated this provision when it directed the appellant’s vehicle to be confiscated. 
  • The trial court’s order was premature and the confiscation could have been ordered upon following the due process of law u/s 63 of NDPS.

ARGUMENTS ADVANCED BY THE RESPONDENT:

  • The trial court was well within its rights when ordering the confiscation and the subsequent auction, given the provisions it was seized under and was in connection to. 
  • While the trial was ongoing, the appellant was absconding and the court was compelled to proceed in his absence. 
  • It was the appellant’s failure to participate in the investigation and the legal proceedings which resulted in the trial court having to take that step. 
  • The vehicle was confiscated on the basis of the contraband seizure, public interest, and available evidence, and therefore was justified. 

JUDGEMENT ANALYSIS:

  • At the foremost, the Supreme Court established that the vehicle in question did belong to the appellant.
  • The Supreme Court reiterated the provisions in section 63 of NDPS, stating that the provision mandates a court cannot order the confiscation of a property until the expiry of a month since its seizure, without providing the claimant of the property an opportunity to be heard. 
  • It highlighted that depriving the appellant of an opportunity to be heard before ordering the confiscation and auction, was violative of section 63 of NDPS. 
  • The Apex Court held that the trial court failed to follow the mandated procedure when it ordered the confiscation of the vehicle. 
  • While the Supreme Court acknowledged that the appellant had not the appellant had not been arrested at the time of the trial, the appellant’s right to be heard could not be compromised regardless. 
  • The trial court’s order was eventually quashed.

CONCLUSION:

The Supreme Court set aside the judgment of the trial court and held that the trial court’s order was not in adherence with the procedural requirements of section 63 of NDPS. The Supreme Court directed the trial court to allow the appellant an opportunity to be heard and instructed the appellant to file an application before the trial court seeking the opportunity to be heard within six weeks of the instant order. The trial court was instructed to issue a fresh order within 2 weeks upon receiving said application, in accordance with the procedural laws. The appeal and any related pending applications stood disposed of with no order as to costs.  


 

 
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