Every time you cross a police station, in addition to frazzled complainants and weary police personnel, you’re bound to notice several dusty two-wheelers, vans, and cars parked in and around the compounds, without maintenance. In case you’re curious, here’s the answer — these are vehicles seized by cops, waiting to be released after a remittance of fine to the police or based on the outcome of a legal tussle. “Sometimes the vehicles are unclaimed for so long that they become part of the station,” a constable in Virugambakkam quips.
Talking about why the cops get stuck with all kinds of vehicles, a senior police official lists the reasons: vehicles that are impounded for traffic offences are usually in the custody of the Transport Department and will be handed over to the police for ‘safe’ custody. Otherwise it remains in police custody until its owner is traced, after which he can claim the vehicle as per his/her convenience. “The owner of the vehicle will have to file an affidavit in the court and can ask for the release of the vehicle from the court itself either during the course of the trial or post-trial as they wish. Till then it is our responsibility,” he adds. More often than not, when accident cases drag on, owners tend to abandon the vehicle as it becomes a liability and isn’t worth the expenditure – legal and mechanical.
Similarly, vehicles that have been stolen and found are handed over to the court if the owner can be found. And what about vehicles that have been used as part of crimes? “For all crimes under the Indian Penal Code and other laws except prohibition, the vehicles involved are handed over to the court and examined for evidence if necessary,” he adds. Bootleggers don’t have that luxury though. In case of vehicles seized in prohibition (bootlegging liquor or arrack), the vehicles will be auctioned by the prohibition department and the proceeds go to the government. The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), which seizes vehicles carrying drugs also follows the same procedure. “Perhaps this is why a lot of drug peddlers choose not to use personal vehicles, but opt for hired ones,” says an NCB officer.
Auto drivers have for long alleged that policemen delay returning vehicles impounded for traffic issues, but the police point their fingers in a different direction — “As per the Tamil Nadu Motor Vehicles Rules, an order from the Regional Transport Officer is mandatory for the police to return the seized vehicles to their owners in case of traffic violations,” says the police officer.
There may be light at the end of the tunnel though. Recently, the Madras High Court suggested that the government make amendments to the Tamil Nadu Motor Vehicles Rules, 1989, prescribing a time limit to return the seized vehicles and the manner of disposal of vehicles that are not claimed by the owners, the police officer points out.
“We are awaiting orders from the government and will proceed accordingly,” he says.