Police officer cannot seize driving licence unless in uniform: Calcutta High Court

Team SoOLEGAL 7 Mar 2020 4:05pm

Police officer cannot seize driving licence unless in uniform: Calcutta High Court

The Calcutta High Court recently held that, in the context of Section 130 of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988, an individual is not required to hand over his driving license on request to a police officer who is not in his uniform.

"The duty to produce a licence and certificate of registration only arises under Section 130 of the 1988 Act, Sub-section (1) of which provides that the driver of a motor vehicle in any public place shall on demand by any police officer in uniform produce his licence for examination." Calcutta High Court

The Court treated a written petition lodged by Suryaneel Das (petitioner) alleging that he was harassed and threatened by two men in civilian clothing who confiscated his driving license without granting any slip of temporary approval.

The petitioner stated that two men came up to him while he was talking on the phone, asked him to disconnect the phone and get out of the car to answer a few questions.

The men seized his driving licence, all the while refusing to show any legitimate proof of identification. They issued him a compound slip after the license was taken but this slip also did not reveal the identity of the impounding officers.

In reprimanding the police authorities for their conduct, Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyya remarked that,

The mala fides of the Sub-Inspector of Police, namely, Biswajit Das, is patent from his action in seizing the driving licence of the petitioner without issuing any acknowledgment which would act as a temporary licence for the petitioner in the first place.”- Calcutta High Court.

The Court ruled in favour of the petitioner, inter alia, because police officers breached the Motor Vehicles Act in taking the driver's license while not in uniform. The Court also observed,

"Nothing has been disclosed as to the police being in uniform when they seized the driving licence and, as such, there was no duty cast upon the petitioner, who was the driver of the vehicle-in-question, to hand over his licence at all and the seizure of the licence was palpably under coercion on the part of the police officer involved, who was not even in uniform."

The Court also refuses police representations that depend on Section 206 of the Motor Vehicles Act to explain their actions. That clause provides for the seizure of a driving license where the driver is accused of being able to abscond or avoid legal summons when an offense is charged to that person.

The Court pointed out that even in such a scenario, the police "could at best take resort to Section 177 of the 1988 Act and impose a fine of Rs.100/- as stipulated for a first offence."

The Court also took careful notice of a suggestion that there was no facility for the police in the area to accept cash or card payment for any violation of Motor Vehicle Act. The Bench also found out, acknowledging that the same was inexcusable, that the option of taking driver's licenses for violations was excessive.

The High Court also held, in this case, that there was no prima facie evidence to show that the police gave the petitioner an opportunity to pay some fine on the spot.

In view of these observations, the Court held that it was liable to quash the seizure and the proceedings against the petitioner.

The High Court also warned the errant police officer to obey the correct legal procedures in the future.

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.”- Calcutta High Court

The writ petition was disposed of with instructions to return the driving license to the petitioner immediately by the police authorities.

Tagged: Calcutta High Court   Motor Vehicles Act   Justice Sabyasachi Bhattacharyyav   driving licence     
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