The Dilemma Over Interpretation Of Section 102 Of Code Of Criminal Procedure, 1973
It has been often observed that the ambiguous text of provisions causes abuse and misuse of investigation powers by police officers often leading to harsh ramifications for ostensible innocent parties as well as accused persons. One of such provisions is Clause (1) of Section 102, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (hereinafter "CrPC"), wherein police officers are empowered to freeze the...
It has been often observed that the ambiguous text of provisions causes abuse and misuse of investigation powers by police officers often leading to harsh ramifications for ostensible innocent parties as well as accused persons. One of such provisions is Clause (1) of Section 102, Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 (hereinafter "CrPC"), wherein police officers are empowered to freeze the bank accounts of a person. However, the issue that surrounds the interpretation of Section 102(1) is the condition precedent for seizing the bank accounts of a person. The conundrum is that whether this condition precedent before seizing the bank account is (a) that the transactions of the bank account must create the suspicion of the commission of any offence by the bank account holder, or (b) simply that the bank account holder must be an accused in the commission of any offence and there should be a nexus between the bank account and the alleged offence.
In other words, whether the discovery of an offence must follow the discovery of suspicious bank transactions always, or the discovery of any offence can precede the discovery of suspicious bank transactions?
Clause (1) of Section 102 states that "Any police officer may seize any property which may be alleged or suspected to have been stolen, or which may be found under circumstances which create suspicion of the commission of any offence." The term "create" has created an ambiguity that whether the discovery of the offence should be a sequel to the discovery of suspicious bank transactions and not the other way around. On this aspect, the Supreme Court has taken a view in the case of State of Maharashtra Vs. Tapas D.N. Neogy that there is no such requirement that the bank transactions must create the suspicion of an offence in every case. It was held that the police officer can seize the bank account if there is any direct link with the commission of the offence for which the police officer is investigating into. However, subsequently, the High Court of Madras in the case of R. Chandrasekar vs. Inspector of Police, Fair Land Police Station Salem and Ors. held that the discovery of the offence must precede the discovery of the suspicious transactions. The Court concluded that "There are no circumstances attendant upon the bank account or its operation that have led the police to suspect that some offence has been committed somewhere. The allegation of the prosecution is that the bank account in this case is a sequel to the discovery of the commission of the offence. This is not sufficient to attract Section 102 of Cr.P.C. as it cannot be since that the bank account has been traced or discovered in circumstance which have made the police aware of the commission of an offence." Then, the High Court of Allahabad in Suninder Sandha vs. State of U.P. and Ors. considered the decision of Apex Court in State of Maharashtra Vs. Tapas D.N. Neogy and held that discovery of any offence can precede the discovery of suspicious bank transactions. It was held that "Thus, various judgments of the High Courts cited by learned counsel for the applicant on the proposition that powers under Section 102 of the Code, are to be exercised only when discovery of a property leads to suspicion of a commission of an offence, does not represent the correct statement of law in view of Neogy (supra), wherein it has been held that if the property seized has links with commission of an offence under investigation, power under Section 102 of the Code can be exercised."
However, recently, the Supreme Court of India in Nevada PropertiesPrivate Limited vs. State of Maharashtra and Ors. has held that Section 102"would not be attracted where the property has not been traced or discovered which leads to a suspicion of an offence having been committed. Discovery of property should precede the detection of crime." However, again, the Supreme Court of India in the case of OPTO Circuits(India) Ltd. v. Axis Bank, (2021) 6 SCC 707 held that the "……power under Section 102 CrPC is to the police officer during the course of investigation." Similarly, various High Courts such as Delhi High Court and Karnataka High Court have justified the act of investigation authorities of freezing the bank account during the investigation of an offence which have come after the decision of Nevada Properties (supra).
The question now arises is which interpretation is more appropriate as per the settled principles of statutory interpretation. The principles of interpretation have settled that the intention of the legislature is primarily to be gathered from the language used, which means that attention should be paid to what has been said as also to what has not been said. As a consequence, a construction that requires for its support, addition or substitution of words or which results in rejection of words as meaningless has to be avoided. As settled by Privy Council in the case of Renula Bose (Smt.) v. Rai Manmathnath Bose that "it is contrary to all rules of construction to read words into an Act unless it is absolutely necessary to do so". Similarly, it is wrong and dangerous to proceed by substituting some other words for words of the statute.
If we follow these settled principles of law, we would observe that clause (1) of Section 102 CrPC is very plain and does not create any ambiguity in itself. The words of a statute are first understood in their natural, ordinary and popular sense. The phrases and sentences are construed according to their grammatical meaning unless that leads to some absurdity or unless there is something in the context, or in the object of the statute to suggest the contrary. Thus, if we read clause (1) of Section 102, CrPC, we would find that the legislature has stated in a very plain language that "any police officer may seize any property…. which may be found under circumstances which create suspicion of the commission of any offence." The word "create" very clearly and in very plain language specifies the condition that the property must create the suspicion of commission of an offence. Any other interpretation tantamount to the substitution of own meaning which is impermissible by the settled principles of statutory interpretation.
Thus, the interpretation of the courts that the police officer is empowered to seize the bank account of an accused person during the investigation if there is any nexus between the offence and the bank account seems incorrect in view of the above-said principles.
Although, it seemed that the decision of Nevada Properties (supra) would end the issue of the true interpretation of clause (1) of Section 102 CrPC, the subsequent judgments of the Hon'ble Supreme Court and High Courts as above-cited show that the issue is yet to mature. Probably, the issue that courts are facing is that if Section 102 CrPC does not empower the police office to seize the bank accounts during the investigation, then under which provision the police officer can prevent the future damage to happen if economic offences are allegedly committed under the provisions of Indian Penal Code, 1860. It appears that the legislature needs to amend the said provision to provide more clarity in respect to the powers of police officers under Section 102 CrPC.
The authors are Advocates at High Court of Delhi.Views are personal.
1999 (5) SCALE 613.
2003 Cri LJ 294.
1999 (5) SCALE 613.
(2019) 20 SCC 119.
Ravina and Associates Pvt. Ltd. and Another v. Central Bureau of Investigation and Another, CRL.M.C. 1372/2021 and CRL. M.A. 8423/2021.
See R. Aneppa v. State of Karnataka, Represented by Police Inspector, CRL.R.P. No. 646/2020.
Shyam Kishori Devi v. Patna Municipal Corporation, AIR 1966 SC 1678.
 AIR 1945 PC 108.
Crawford v. Spooner, (1846) 4 MIA 179.