JOSEPH Vs. AUTHORIZED OFFICER
HIGH COURT OF KERALA
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(1.)THE short question is this: Can a party, in proceedings for confiscation of vehicles and/or other articles seized under the provisions of the Kerala Forest Act, 1961 (for short 'the Act') claim that he has a right to cross-examine the officials involved in the seizure. Petitioners in this original Petition claim such a right on the premise that denial of the opportunity to cross- examine would violate principles of nature justice.
(2.)A jeep, while transporting leak timber, was seized by the forest officials on 29-3-92. Second petitioner is the registered owner of the jeep and first petitioner claims ownership of the timber. Divisional Forest Officer, as Authorized Officer under the Act, issued a notice to both the petitioners calling upon them to show cause why the jeep as well as timber should not be confiscated under S. 61 A of the Acton the allegation that the timber was illegally collected from government forest and that the jeep was used to transport the limber. Reference was made in the said notice to a report submitted by the forest Range Officer concerned. First Petitioner, instead of submitting his explanation, filed two petitions before the Divisional Forest Officer, one for furnishing copy of the report of the Range Officer and the other for permission to cross-examine the said Range Officer. (He also seeks permission to examine some other officials attached to the forest department, but it is clear that his aim is to get an opportunity to cross-examine those officials ). The divisional Forest Officer furnished a copy of the report sought for, but declined to afford opportunity to cross-examine the forest officials (vide ext. P5 ). Petitioners have, therefore, filed this Original Petition challenging the aforesaid stand of the Divisional Forest Officer.
The only ground urged in the Original Petition is that right to cross-examine is part of the rule of natural justice. "negation of that right of cross-examination will amount to violation of the rule of natural justice", according to the petitioners.
In order to consider the tenability of the aforesaid contention, it is necessary to have an idea of the confiscatory proceedings under the Act.
(3.)" Fores t offence" is defined in S. 2 (e) as the offence punishable under the Act or any rule made there under. Kerala Forest Produce Transit Rules 1975 have been formulated as per the provisions of the Act. Rule 3 says that no person shall transport timber or other forest produce unless it is accompanied by a pass or is stamped by a government stamp. Rule 23 makes contravention of the above rule punishable. S. 27 of the Act says that any person who fells or removes any tree in a reserved forest shall be punished etc. (Commission of certain other acts arc also made punishable, but those aspects are not very relevant in this context ). Chapter VIII of the Act deals with Offences, P
N lilies aNd Procedure. S. 52 empowers a Forest Officer or police officer to seize timber other Icrest produce together with all tools or vehicles etc. , used if there is reasoN to believe that a forest offeNce has beeN committed. S. 61a of the Act eNjoiNs oN the officer seiliNg them to produce them before aN officer authorized by goverNmeNt iN this behalf. Such aN officer is giveN the power to order coNfiscatioN of the property as well as the vehicle used iN committiNg such offeNce if he is satisfied that a forest offeNce has beeN committed iN respect of such property. S. 61b lays dowN the procedure to be followed by the Authorized officer orderiNg coruscatioN.
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