Procedure for release of produce seized under Forest Act.

Power of seizure of produce under Forest Act, 1927:

Specific provisions have been made for the seizure and confiscation of forest produce and of tools, boats, vehicles and articles used in the commission of offences. Upon a seizure under Section 52(1), the officer effecting the seizure has to either produce the property before the Authorised Officer or to make a report of the seizure under sub-section (2) of Section 52. Upon being satisfied that a forest offence has been committed, the Authorised Officer is empowered, for reasons to be recorded, to confiscate the forest produce together with the tools, vehicles, boats and articles used in its commission. Before confiscating any property under sub-section (3), the Authorised Officer is required to send an intimation of the initiation of the proceedings for the confiscation of the property to the Magistrate having jurisdiction to try the offence. Where it is intended to immediately launch a criminal proceeding, a report of the seizure is made to the Magistrate having jurisdiction to try the offence.

Appeal:

The order of confiscation under Section 52(3) is subject to an appeal under Section 52-A and a revision under Section 52-B. Sub- section (5) of Section 52-B imparts finality to the order of the Court of Sessions in revision notwithstanding anything contained to the contrary in the CrPC and provides that it shall not be called into question before any court. Section 52-C stipulates that on the receipt of an intimation by the Magistrate under sub-section (4) of Section 52, no court, tribunal or authority, other than an Authorised Officer, an Appellate Authority or Court of Sessions (under Sections 52, 52-A and 52-B) shall have jurisdiction to pass orders with regard to possession, delivery, disposal or distribution of the property in regard to which confiscation proceedings have been initiated. Sub-section (1) of Section 52-C has a non obstante provision which operates notwithstanding anything to the contrary contained in the Indian Forest Act 1927 or in any other law for the time being in force. The only saving is in respect of an officer duly empowered by the State government for directing the immediate release of a property seized under Section 52, as provided in Section.

Release u/s 451 CrPC.:

Hence, upon the receipt of an intimation by the Magistrate of the initiation of confiscation proceedings under sub-section (4)(a) of Section 52, the bar of jurisdiction under sub-section (1) of Section 52-C is clearly attracted. The scheme contained in the amendments enacted to the Indian Forest Act 1927 in relation to the State of Madhya Pradesh, makes it abundantly clear that the direction which was issued by the High Court in the present case, in a petition under Section 482 of the CrPC, to the Magistrate to direct the interim release of the vehicle, which had been seized, was contrary to law. The jurisdiction under Section 451 of the CrPC was not available to the Magistrate, once the Authorised Officer initiated confiscation proceedings.

The Madhya Pradesh amendments to the Indian Forest Act 1927 are infused with a salutary public purpose. Protection of forests against depredation is a constitutionally mandated goal exemplified by Article 48A of the Directive Principles and the Fundamental Duty of every citizen incorporated in Article 51A(g)29. By isolating the confiscation of forest produce and the instruments utilised for the commission of an offence from criminal trials, the legislature intended to ensure that confiscation is an effective deterrent. The absence of effective deterrence was considered by the Legislature to be a deficiency in the legal regime. The state amendment has sought to overcome that deficiency by imposing stringent deterrents against activities which threaten the pristine existence of forests in Madhya Pradesh. As an effective tool for protecting and preserving environment, these provisions must receive a purposive interpretation.

Article 48(A) :

“The State shall endeavour to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country.”.

Sub-clause (g) of Article 51A provides :

“It shall be the duty of every citizen of India to protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife, and to have compassion for living creatures.”

For, it is only when the interpretation of law keeps pace with the object of the Legislature that the grave evils which pose a danger to our natural environment can be suppressed. The avarice of humankind through the ages has resulted in an alarming depletion of the natural environment. The consequences of climate change are bearing down on every day of our existence. Statutory interpretation must remain eternally vigilant to the daily assaults on the environment.

[Source: State Of Madhya Pradesh vs Uday Singh decided by SC on 26 March, 2019]
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