Police don't have power to attach immovable property during criminal probe: Apex court
New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday held that police do not have any power under the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) to seize, attach and seal any immovable property like a house, plot or land, during investigation of a criminal case.
The top court said if a police officer is allowed to seize immovable property on mere suspicion of commission of an offence, it would mean giving a "drastic and extreme power" to dispossess the owner of the property on mere conjectures.
"The reference is answered by holding that the power of a police officer under section 102 of the Code to seize any property, which may be found under circumstances that create suspicion of the commission of any offence, would not include the power to attach, seize and seal an immovable property," a bench of Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and justices Deepak Gupta and Sanjiv Khanna said. "Section 102 of the code is not a general provision which enables and authorises a police officer to seize immovable property for being able to be produced in a criminal court during trial", it said.
The top court said disputes relating to title and possession, among others, of immovable properties are civil disputes which have to be decided and adjudicated in civil courts.
"We must discourage and stall any attempt to convert civil disputes into criminal cases to put pressure on the other side," it said, adding that "thus, it will not be proper to hold that section 102 of the Code empowers a police officer to seize immovable property, land, plots, residential houses, streets or similar properties".
The bench, however, clarified that section 102 of the CrPC would not bar or prohibit a police officer from seizing documents and papers of title relating to an immovable property, as it is distinct and different from seizure of immovable property. "Disputes and matters relating to the physical and legal possession and title of the property must be adjudicated upon by a civil court," it said.
Dealing with the legal aspect of seizure of the immovable property, it said the language of section 102 does not support the interpretation that a police officer has the power to dispossess a person in occupation and take possession of an immovable property in order to seize it.
"In the absence of the legislature conferring this express or implied power under section 102 of the Code to a police officer, we would hesitate and not hold that this power should be inferred and is implicit in the power to effect seizure," it said. The bench said the scope and object of the section, is to help and assist investigation and to enable a police officer to collect and collate evidence to be produced to prove the charge complained of and set up in the charge sheet.
"The expression 'circumstances which create suspicion of the commission of any offence' in section 102 does not refer to a firm opinion or an adjudication/finding by a police officer to ascertain whether or not any property' is required to be seized.
"The word 'suspicion' is a weaker and a broader expression than 'reasonable belief' or 'satisfaction'.
The police officer is an investigator and not an adjudicator or a decision maker," the bench said.
It said, "In case and if we allow the police officer to seize immovable property on mere suspicion of the commission of any offence, it would mean and imply giving a drastic and extreme power to dispossess etc. to the police
officer on a mere conjecture and surmise, that is, on suspicion, which has hitherto not been exercised".
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