Police and State agencies are beginning to feel the after-effects of demonetisation as the Supreme Court has issued notices to know whether the police have to return the seized demonetised currency in the malkhana or they have to return the amount in new currency. The Centre or States are yet to issue any policy or guideline on what is to be done on seized cash lying as case property in police malkhanas.
The issue came to light before the Supreme Court last week when it was hearing an appeal by Chandigarh Police against an order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court which asked the States of Punjab, Haryana, and Chandigarh Union Territory to ensure that in the event case property has to be returned to the claimant, new currency notes should be returned and not the old, demonetised currency that was seized earlier.
Although the Supreme Court Bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra stayed the HC order, it issued notice to the State agencies concerned seeking their response within eight weeks on the question whether post-demonetisation, the police have to return the amount as it is kept in the malkhana or are they bound to return the amount in new currency.
The issue arose in a case of theft where four persons were accused of stealing cash from an ATM maintained by ISS SDB Security Services Private Limited. The incident occurred in Fazilka, Punjab on September 24, 2014. The allegation was that the accused stole Rs 86.5 lakh of which Rs 43 lakh was recovered from them on their arrest. The same was deposited with the police.
Interestingly, the Additional District Judge, Fazilka on September 21, 2016 issued an order to the police for releasing the said Rs 43 lakh on the ground that it was recovered from them and no one else had approached the trial court claiming ownership and return of the said money.
This alerted the security agency responsible for loading and unloading cash at the ATM as the agency, ISS SDB Security Services Private Ltd challenged the order before the HC. While the HC stayed the said order of release, it called the law officers of Punjab, Haryana, and Chandigarh to ascertain whether any instructions were issued to the police to meet such a situation. In response, Chandigarh Police stated that despite best of its efforts, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) was refusing to accept the old currency kept in the malkhana.
The single Judge Bench of the HC on March 23, 2017 passed an order saying, “In order to safeguard the interest of general public, it is ordered that in the event of any order of return of currency or valuable to any person concerned, payment will be made in new currency and not in old currency, which was recovered.”
It was left to the States and UT administration to take steps to comply with this order.
This is not the first time the apex court has been faced with this issue. A similar question is pending with the apex court where an accused in a betting racket got acquitted by a Delhi court and the money seized from him at the time of arrest was ordered for release. The Delhi Police released the amount in old currency notes against which he approached the apex court.
The court has issued notice and demanded response from the Centre and Delhi Government on the petition filed by the acquitted person.
As carried PI on 25.9.17