MADURAI: A division bench of the Madurai Bench of Madras High Court recently sought for the constitution of a Full Bench (a bench of three or more judges) to clarify whether police officers have the power to seize vehicles under the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Act, 1957, or if the said power is only vested with revenue officials.
A Bench of justices MS Ramesh and N Anand Venkatesh noted that the court had passed an order on October 29, 2018, issuing a series of directions to the government for addressing the illegal mining issue in the State. In the order, the court had only recognised the revenue officials as the ‘authorised officer’, who can seize vehicles and file private complaints after the seizure before the jurisdictional court, the judges added.
To comply with the said order, the government also passed a G.O. on August 5, 2020, but it was not in line with the court’s order as it mentioned that even police officials (not below the rank of inspector) are empowered to seize vehicles under Section 21 (4) of the above Act, the judges noted.
To address this conflict between the court’s order and the G.O., the judges decided to refer the matter to a Full Bench for clarification. They framed five questions, including whether police personnel could be treated as authorised officers under the Act, and if not, what would be the effect of seizures already carried out by police under the aforesaid G.O. They also wanted clarification on whether the Special Court alone has the power to compound a vehicle or if it could be done by authorised officers. They directed the Registry to place the matter before the Chief Justice of Madras HC for constituting a Full Bench.
The conflict came to light when the Bench was hearing a petition filed by S Kumar, seeking direction to release his 29 vehicles, which were seized by police on charges that he used them for illegal mining in his stone quarry at Munneerpallam in Tirunelveli. The vehicles were seized after four persons lost their lives in a landslide that happened in the quarry in May this year. Citing the larger issue involved, the judges directed the petitioner to approach the Special Court.