The Patna High Court has ruled that the seizure of an entire hotel due to the discovery of liquor on its premises is deemed unjust and illegal if the property owner is not implicated in the alleged offense.
The court further said that the arbitrary assumption of the hotel owner’s involvement in a liquorrelated crime by excise authorities, solely based on the lease being unregistered, is unfounded.
Consequently, the court nullified the confiscation order, deeming it unlawful.
The division bench of Justices P. B. Bajanthri and Ramesh Chand Malviya observed, “No material has been placed on record to establish that petitioner-lessor involved in the alleged offences under the Excise Act except to the extent that he is owner of the subject matter of premises. Merely, owner of the premises and subject matter of premises was under lease, the owner cannot be held responsible unless and until certain corroborative evidence is placed on record to the extent that he or she the owner is also involved in the alleged offences under the Excise Act.”
“In the present case, official respondents have proceeded to initiate and complete the confiscation proceedings only on the score that petitioner was an owner and the lease deed executed on 01.06.2016 is unregistered document.” the division bench said.
The aforementioned judgment was delivered in response to a writ petition initiated by an individual named Rakesh Kumar. The petition sought the issuance of a writ of certiorari to annul the order issued by the Collector-cum-District Magistrate of Muzaffarpur in a Confiscation Case. The Collector-cum-District Magistrate, in purported exercise of powers granted under Section 58 of the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, had confiscated the entire premises of Hotel Chandralok Continental, Muzaffarpur. The order further directed the Sub-Divisional Officer, East Muzaffarpur, to declare the aforementioned property as government property and ensure the physical possession of the property is handed over to the Circle Officer, Musahari, Muzaffarpur.
The petitioner further sought a direction to the respondents to forthwith release the aforesaid premises.
The petitioner, Rakesh Kumar stating ownership of Hotel Chandralok Continental in Muzaffarpur, leased the property to Md. Rizwanul Haque. Subsequently, during the lease period, it was alleged that Haque or his employees were in possession of illegal liquor, leading to the seizure of 2.25 liters of foreign liquor on August 17, 2016. A case was registered under the Bihar Excise Act, 2015, amended by the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, naming the petitioner as a co-accused.
Challenged by the Excise Case, which involved offenses under Sections 47(a), 53(c), and 54 & 57 of the aforementioned Act, the petitioner filed a petition under Section 482 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr.P.C) seeking the quashing of the entire proceedings. On September 15, 2023, the High Court granted relief by allowing the Criminal Writ Petition.
Meanwhile, the official respondents initiated proceedings under Section 58 of the Bihar Prohibition and Excise Act, 2016, specifically targeting the order related to confiscation proceedings dated February 7, 2017, and May 16, 2017, in the Confiscation Case.
The authorities declared the premises in question as government property, leading to the confiscation of the subject matter.
Dissatisfied with this order, the petitioner contested the confiscation proceedings.
The court held that the lease deed dated 01.06.2016 was not under dispute; the only contention was regarding its nature, specifically its non-registration. Additionally, the court noted that the respondents did not argue that the petitioner created the lease deed to evade criminal and confiscation proceedings, and there was a lack of corroborative evidence to establish that the premises were not leased to Md. Rizwanul Haque.
The Court emphasized, “No doubt, decision in the criminal proceedings is different from the
confiscation proceedings and at the same time no material evidence has been produced in order to corroborate that petitioner involvement in the alleged offences so as to implicate him in the confiscation proceedings.”
“Petitioner has not exhausted remedy of Appeal and Revision under Section 92 and 93 of Act, 2016 is not tenable for the reasons that Appellate and Revisional authorities were identified only in the year 2021 in Bihar Prohibition and Excise Rules, 2021 whereas present petition filed in the year 2017.”
Consequently, the court set aside the confiscation proceedings initiated by the Collector-cumDistrict Magistrate, Muzaffarpur, in the Confiscation Case, and the writ petition was allowed.