A vehicle tows the damaged Indigo to the Durgapur court complex. Picture by Arup Sarkar
Durgapur, June 10: A Durgapur court today chided police for damaging a car that was in their custody for the past eight months and ordered the investigating officer to return the vehicle within seven days in the condition in which it was seized.
The court also ordered the officer to pay for the repair from his own pocket and said the owner could monitor the work on a day-to-day basis.
Senior advocate Sekhar Basu of Calcutta High Court said he could not recall a similar court order in Bengal. “The order has been passed quickly. Usually, cars lie neglected at police stations as cases drag on for years. In most cases, there is no claimant for seized cars,” he said.
Basu said that according to a Supreme Court order, the police have to return a car to its owner within a month of seizure. “The car has to be returned in the condition in which it was seized. In case of damage, the police will have to repair it,” he said.
The owner of the Tata Indigo, Gopal Mallick, had lodged a case in the court of the Durgapur additional district and sessions judge alleging that the investigating officer had demanded Rs 65,000 from him to return it a month after it was seized for allegedly ferrying stolen electric cables.
Mallick, who runs a transport business and had bought the Indigo as part of his pool in September 2011, alleged that when the car was brought to the court today, it did not start. “There is no number plate; the music system, a looking glass and a window pane are broken; the central locking system is not working; and a tyre has been replaced with a low-quality one,” Mallick said in a petition after the police towed the car to the court complex with the help of a recovery vehicle.
When investigating officer Mohammad Asraful Islam claimed in court that he had got the white Indigo in the current condition after it was seized in August, judge Prasun Kumar Bhattacharjee questioned the police’s claim that they had chased the vehicle before intercepting it.
Last week, the judge had directed the personnel of New Township police station, in whose custody the Indigo had been kept, to bring the car to the court today.
According to the police, personnel of the police station had chased the car on the night of August 18 after getting a “tip-off” that stolen electric cables were being ferried in it. The police report mentions that one Dablu Khan had been arrested from the car.
When the police today brought the car to the court complex, Justice Bhattacharjee told Mallick to check it and inform him in writing whether he was satisfied with it. Mallick submitted a petition saying the car had been damaged.
The judge then asked investigating officer Islam about the car. He admitted that the Indigo was not starting. “I failed to enter the ignition key and the car is not starting,” the officer told the judge.
Islam claimed he had received the car in the current condition eight months ago. Justice Bhattacharjee asked him that if the car had been in the same condition, why was it mentioned in police records that cops had given it chase. When the officer failed to reply, the judge ordered the police to take the car to a service centre and return it to the owner in its original condition within seven days.
Investigating officer Islam denied the charge that he had demanded money from car owner Mallick. “I did not ask for any money from Mallick and I am not responsible for the car’s damage,” he told this correspondent outside the court. The court has ordered a probe into the allegation.
In his order, Justice Bhattacharjee cited a Supreme Court ruling that states “it is the duty of the IO (investigating officer) to maintain the vehicle while it is seized and kept at police custody”.
The Durgapur judge’s order adds: “It also transpires that since 30.08.2013, vehicle was kept under the custody of IO who did not take care to maintain the car in proper form and in running condition. From the official record, it appears that this vehicle was registered in the month of September 2011. It is not expected that within a span of three years the vehicle would lose its capability to run on the road.”
Indigo owner Mallick said after the court directive: “I am hopeful of getting my car back in good condition.”