Legal Provisions Regarding Disposal of Property under Indian Criminal Laws

For the above purpose, the term “property” includes—

(a) Property of any kind, or any document which is produced before the Court, or which is in the Court’s custody;

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(b) Any property regarding which an offence appears to have been committed;

(c) Any property which appears to have been used for the commission of any offence.

It has been held that the summary powers to order custody and possession given to Magistrates by the Code should not be used when the Civil Court is seized of the matter on the question of ownership and possession, and has passed an order regarding such custody or possession. (Haobam Singh v. Thonnavjain—1961 2 Cr. L.J. 256)

S. 452 then provides that, at the conclusion of any inquiry or trial in any Criminal Court, the Court may make such order as it thinks fit for the disposal of any such property or document. Such an order may provide that the property be destroyed or be confiscated or be handed over to any person claiming to be entitled to its possession.

When it is so delivered to another person, it may be given away, either unconditionally or on the condition that he must execute such bond (with or without sureties) agreeing to restore such property to the Court if the Court’s order is modified or set aside on appeal or in revision.

Except where the property involved is livestock or is subject to speedy and natural decay or when a bond has been executed (as above), the Court’s order regarding the disposal of the property at the conclusion of the trial is not to be carried out for two months, or when an appeal is filed, until such an appeal is disposed of.

It has been held that S. 452 also covers property which is voluntarily produced before a Magistrate by a witness in a case, as also property seized by the Police or found on the person of the accused. The Nagpur High Court has held that it is immaterial as to how the property reached the custody of the Court. Even if the original seizure was illegal, the section would still apply. (Bhimji,—1945 Nag. 413)

The Madras High Court has held that where a cow is stolen and recovered eighteen months after the theft, it can be ordered to be delivered from an innocent purchaser, but such an order cannot be passed as regards its calf, which was not in embryo at the time of the theft and was born afterwards. (Vernede,—1886 10 Mad. 25)

It is further provided that in cases of conviction for theft or receiving stolen property, if any money is taken out of the possession of the convicted person (at the time he was arrested), it may be utilized in compensating an innocent purchaser of property, who loses possession of such property on conviction of the accused. (S. 453)

Appeals:

Appeals against a Court’s order directing disposal of property (as above) lie to the Court to which appeals ordinarily lie from convictions by the former Court. On such appeal, the Appellate Court may direct the order to be stayed pending the disposal of the appeal, or it may modify, alter or annul the order and make any further orders that it may deem fair and just.

Destruction of libelous and other matter:

S. 455 lays down that on a conviction under S. 292 or 293 or 501 or 502 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, the Court may order the destruction of all the copies of the thing in respect of which the accused was convicted and which are in the custody of the Court or which remain in the possession or power of the convicted person.

Likewise, on a conviction under S. 272 or 273 or 274 or 275, the Court may order the destruction of the food, drink, drug or medicinal preparation in respect of which there was a conviction.

Possession of immovable property:

S. 456 provides that when a person is convicted of any offence which includes criminal force or show of force, or criminal intimidation, and it appears to the Court that he has by such means, dispossessed another person of any immovable property, the Court may order that possession thereof be restored to that person, after evicting (by force if necessary) any other person who may be in possession of such property. However, any such order must be made within one month of the date of the conviction.

If such an order has not been made by the Court trying the offence, the Court of appeal, confirmation or revision may do so if it thinks fit.

Further, it is expressly provided that no such order shall prejudice any right to, or interest in, such immovable property which any person may be able to establish in a Civil Court.

Procedure on seizure of property:

Whenever any seizure of property by any Police Officer is reported to a Magistrate under the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code, and such property is not produced before a Criminal Court during an inquiry or trial, the Magistrate may make such order as he thinks fit as regards the disposal or delivery of such property.

If the person entitled to the possession of such property is a known or ascertained person, the Magistrate may order the property to be delivered to him on such conditions (if any) as he may think fit. If, however, such person is unknown, the Magistrate may detain the property, where after he must issue a proclamation specifying the articles and requiring any person who has a claim thereto, to appear before him and establish his claim within six months from the date of the proclamation. (S. 457)

The discretion given by S. 457 to the Magistrate must be exercised in a judicial manner. In the absence of anything to show the title to the property, it must be given to the person in whose possession it was at the time of attachment. The Magistrate does not, under this action, decide the question of title, but only of possession. The real owner can assert his’ right of ownership in a Civil Court. (Tribhuvan,—1884 9 Bom. 131)

If no person establishes his claim within the six-month period referred to above, and if the person in possession is also unable to show that it was legally acquired by him, the Magistrate may order that such property may be sold away by the State Government, and the proceeds of such sale are to be dealt with in such manner as may be prescribed. (S. 458)

Under S. 459, a Magistrate may, at any time, direct the property to be sold—

(i) If the person entitled to its possession is unknown or absent, and the property is subject to speedy and natural decay; or

(ii) If the Magistrate to whom its seizure is reported is of the opinion that its sale would be for the benefit of the owner; or

(iii) If such Magistrate is of the opinion that the value of such property is less than Rs. 500.