Decided on August 19,1992



- (1.)The 1st respondent is the owner of a lorry bearing ATT-3875 which was intercepted and seized while carrying teakwood on 29-3-1985. Proceedings were initiated under S. 44 of A.P. Forest Act, 1967. The authorised Officer offered opportunity to the first respondent and ordered confiscation of the lorry. It is said that no claim has been made with regard to the timber which was carried in the said lorry and that the timber stood confiscated to the Government. In so far as the lorry is concerned, S. 44(2-A) of the said Act confers power upon the authorised officer not only to confiscate the timber or Forest produce but also all tools, ropes, chains, boats or vehicles used in committing such forest offences, S. 44(2-B) of the said Act contemplates issuance of notice and affording opportunity to the party affected. S. 44(2-C) of the said Act places onus of proof on the owner of the said tool, rope, chain, boat or vehicle that was used in carrying the forest produce without his knowledge or connivance or the knowledge or connivance of his Agent, if any, or the person in charge of the tool, rope, chain, boat or vehicle in committing the offence and that each of them had taken all reasonable and necessary precaution against such use. In the instant case, admittedly, the lorry in question owned by the first respondent carrying the timber on the date mentioned supra was intercepted and seized. It is also not disputed that the first respondent was issued with a notice and was also afforded an opportunity. The first respondent did not complain before the authorised officer about want of opportunity. The belated contention before the appellate authority i.e. R-2 herein was that there was infraction of provision of S. 44(2) of the A.P. Forest Act, 1967 and that the complainant was not examined, thus, projecting the cause of the petitioner that she was deprived of the chance of cross examination. The authorised officer had ordered confiscation of the lorry holding that the first respondent had failed to prove her innocence but the same was reversed by the appellate authority i.e. R-2 herein on the ground which is as under :
"It is also brought out that the complainant has not been examined before the Forest Officer and the appellant had no opportunity of Cross-examining the complainant. The fact in the case and the record bear testimony to the fact that the mandatory provisions under S. 44(2) of A.P. Forest Act have not been complied with. Therefore, in the face of the these contentions which are fairly borne out on record the order of the learned Division Forest Officer cannot be maintained and it is liable to be set aside. Point found accordingly."

(2.)The appellate authority ought not to have reversed the well reasoned order rendered by the authorised Officer. There is no infraction of principles of natural justice in the instant case. The burden of proof is on the owner of the vehicle transporting the forest produce to prove his/her innocence and in the instant case the first respondent failed to prove the same. The question of the complainant being examined does not arise in a case of this nature as the burden lies on the owner of the vehicle to prove his innocence. May be initially the burden is on the authorities to prove to the effect that a particular vehicle was involved in a forest offence and once the said offence is proved, the onus automatically shifts on the owner of the lorry to prove his/her innocence, even under the general principles and provisions of the Indian Evidence Act. The petitioner does not deny carrying of forest produce on the date mentioned supra so also the interception and seizure but only pleads innocence. The said plea of innocence was negatived by the authorised officer on merits. There was no obligation on the part of the authorities to examine the complainant and by non-examination of the said complainant, neither the provisions contained under S. 44 of the A.P. Forest Act 1967 are violated nor any infraction of principles of natural justice is committed.
(3.)In the circumstances, the order of the second respondent is set aside restoring the order of the Divisional Forest Officer-cum-Authorised Officer dated 9-7-1985 passed in proceedings No. 533/Or/FSP/3/85. The Writ Petition is accordingly allowed. No costs.

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