The Calcutta High Court observed that seizure of driving license by the police officer not in uniform as envisaged in Section 130 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 as well as no acknowledgment under Section 206 (3) of the said act is clearly illegal.
The single bench of Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya said,
" A police officer is supposed to be a protector of justice, a much higher obligation is expected from the police than a common citizen with regard to protecting the law by following due process of law."
In the instant case, Mr. Suryaneel Das (petitioner in person) parked his car and was engaged in a telephonic conversation. The petitioner alleged that thereupon, two middle-aged men in civil clothes (police personnel respondent-authorities) came up to him and asked him to disconnect the phone and step out of the car to answer the queries of a third man.
The petitioner being unsure of the identity of the persons did not oblige at first and instead requested the men to show their valid id proofs. It was alleged by the petitioner that no proof was provided by the two men instead they started intimidating and threatening the petitioner. The petitioner aggrieved that they seized the driving license of the petitioner without the issuance of any temporary authorization slip as contemplated in Section 206(3) of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988.
Further, the petitioner also alleged that the two men who were claiming to be police personnel (respondent authorities) were not in uniform as envisaged under Section 130 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 and hence were not entitled to seize the driving license of the petitioner.
As per Section 130(1) of the above-said Act, the driver of a motor vehicle in any public place shall, on demand by any police officer in uniform, produce his license for examination subject to the proviso therein.
The court observed that nothing in this present case disclosed that the police being in uniform when they seized the driving license and there was no duty cast upon the petitioner to hand over the license.
"The seizure of the license was palpably under coercion on the part of the police officer involved, who was not even in uniform."
In addition to this, the court also noted that,
"Section 206(2) of the MV Act 1988 categorically specifies that only if the police officer concerned has reason to believe that the driver of a motor vehicle, who is charged with any offence under the Act, may abscond or otherwise avoid the service of a summons, seize any licence held by such driver and forward it to the court taking cognizance of the offence."
"In the present case, even in the written instruction, nothing has been disclosed to show that the concerned police officer had any reason whatsoever to believe that the petitioner had any intention to abscond or otherwise avoid the service of summons" added the court.
Further, the court also remarked that in view of the specific and limited scope of Section 177 of the MV 1988 Act, in the absence of any facility being available with the police to accept such fine in cash or by card at the spot of the alleged offence, the police cannot, under any circumstances, seize the driving licence of the petitioner and/or haul up the petitioner in any manner for such an offence.
Accordingly, the court said the action of the respondent (Sub-inspector of Police) in seizing the driving licence of the petitioner was palpably illegal.
"The conduct of the police officer in not even issuing a temporary acknowledgement, itself reeks of malafides on the part of the police. The petitioner was under no duty, it is reiterated, under Section 130 of the 1988 Act to produce his driving licence even for examination since the police officer in question was not in uniform."
Subsequently, the court disposed of the writ petition by directing the Sub-Inspector of Police to immediately return the driving licence through his counsel to the petitioner.
The court also quashed the case registered by the Sub-Inspector against the petitioner having no feasible basis and being tainted with palpable malafides.
"The Sub-Inspector-in-question is cautioned to follow due process of law in future, in case of seizure of driving licences and in conducting himself with alleged offenders. Since a police officer is supposed to be a protector of justice, a much higher obligation is expected from the officers of the police than a common citizen with regard to protecting the law by following due process of law."
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