If the companies hand over hard disks and documents containing incriminating materials

The Madras High Court Bench here on Monday reserved its judgement, without mentioning a date, in a couple of writ petitions filed by PRP Exports and PRP Granites after the district police offered to unseal the petitioners’ offices if the latter agreed to hand over hard disks and documents containing incriminating materials related to alleged illegal quarrying of granite by the two firms.

Justice Vinod Kumar Sharma deferred his verdict after indicating to Advocate General A. Navaneethakrishnan as well as Supreme Court lawyer Rajeev Dhavan, appearing for the petitioners, that he would give the police three days time beginning from November 7 to take the hard disks as well as other documents from the petitioners’ premises.

Earlier, during arguments, Mr. Dhavan said that he had no grievance with regard to continuation of criminal proceedings against the two firms as they could be taken to their logical end in the process known to law. He was also not against the officials taking any action against the two firms in accordance with the provisions of various laws governing mines and minerals.

However, in so far as continuing mining operations was concerned, he said that it must be allowed to continue uninterruptedly as Supreme Court senior counsel L. Nageswara Rao, who appeared on behalf of the State at the last hearing, had categorically submitted before the court that none of the officials had passed any orders banning quarrying operations.

Further, pointing out that all bank accounts of the two petitioner firms had been frozen and the latter do not even know whether it was done at the instance of the revenue officials or the police department, Mr. Dhavan said: “All these accounts must be ordered to be de-freezed as the State has not submitted the legal provisions under which such requisition was made to the banks.”

He offered to submit fortnightly statement of accounts to the officers concerned, if necessary, after the de-freezing of the bank accounts. He also said that the two companies were not against the police taking away original hard disks and documents after giving them backup copies of the hard disks and photocopies of the documents. The companies would depute two responsible people to assist the police.

During the course of the arguments, the judge wondered how could the Collector in an additional affidavit filed in the court could state that 40 vehicles (15 fork lifts, 11 dumpers and 4 semi-trailers without registration numbers and 10 other vehicles containing identical registration numbers) seized on the charge of violation of Motor Vehicles Act were handed over to the police for “safe custody.”

He also expressed surprise over the statement made by the district police that the seized vehicles were still kept in the petitioners’ premises. “What type of custody it is? You have seized the vehicles and kept them in the place of the accused. I don’t know who this Collector is. I think I have to call him. He says, he had given custody of the vehicles to a Sub-Inspector of police,” the judge exclaimed.

Mr. Justice Sharma also expressed his displeasure over the “fishing enquiry” being made by the district administration and police without a clear picture of the legal authority under which they were acting. “I am here to protect the interest of law. I don’t want criminal investigation to be stopped but at the same time, I don’t want anything to be done without the authority of law,” he said.

Replying to it, the Advocate General said that the Collector had inspected the petitioners’ premises on August 9 along with the police due to the nature of the people he was dealing with. “Otherwise, what happened to a sub-inspector of police (Alwin Sudhavan who was stabbed to death by a mob in Sivaganga) on Saturday would have happened to the Collector on that day,” he claimed.

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