To prevent national waste, the Supreme Court on Monday permitted insurance companies/owners concerned to take possession of seized vehicles, used in commission of offences, after getting the release order from the competent court.

A Bench of Justices P. Sathasivam and Deepak Verma was disposing of a writ petition filed by the General Insurance Council and the four general insurance companies for implementation of earlier judgments so that the seized vehicles would not become junk and their road worthiness would be maintained.

As per the 2005 National Crime Records Bureau report, out of 84,675 vehicles reported lost, 24,918 were recovered by the police and only 4,676 were found roadworthy. As a result, assets worth several hundred crores were lost, the petitioners said. By the time the vehicles were released, they were reduced to junk at police stations.

Writing the judgment, Justice Verma said the information on all insured vehicles available with the Insurance Information Bureau (IIB), created by the Insurance Regulatory Development Agency, could be utilised to assist the police in identifying the insurer. “Upon recovery of the vehicle in a police station, the insurer/complainant can call an all-India toll-free number, to be provided by the IIB, to give information on the recovered vehicle. Upon identification, this information can be communicated to the insurer and the police station concerned for necessary coordination.”

The Bench said the insurer could take possession of the vehicle after getting the release order from the jurisdictional court and take a photograph of the vehicle. The insurer would submit an undertaking/guarantee to remit the proceeds from the sale/auction of the vehicle in the event of the magistrate finally adjudicating that the rightful ownership did not vest with the insurer.

It was common knowledge that as and when vehicles were seized and kept in police stations, they not only occupied substantial space but were also prone to decaying fast as they were exposed to weather conditions. “Even a good maintained vehicle loses its roadworthiness if it is kept stationary in the police station for more than 15 days. Apart from the above, it is a matter of common knowledge that several valuable and costly parts of the vehicles are either stolen or cannibalised so that the vehicles become unworthy of being driven on road.”

To avoid all this, the Bench directed that all State governments/Union Territories to ensure macro implementation of the statutory provisions. The Director-Generals of Police were directed to ensure that the activities of every police station, especially in disposal of the seized vehicles, were taken care of by the Inspector-General/Commissioner of Police/Superintendent of Police concerned. Any police officer not complying with the directions should be dealt with with an iron hand, the court said.

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