The Punjab and Haryana High Court has directed the state Election Commission to pay a compensation of Rs 5 lakh to a Moga resident for causing a delay of five months in the release of his vehicle from police custody. The vehicle had been seized during the 2014 Parliamentary polls by electoral officials after recovery of unlicensed whiskey from it.
“This has caused not only monetary loss to the petitioner but it is also a matter of mental agony and worry, for which he deserves to be suitably compensated,” Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain said in the judgment.
The Tata Safari vehicle, belonging to Hardev Raj Sandhu, had been intercepted in Pathankot by a video surveillance team of the Election Commission on April 27 in 2014.
The vehicle had the flag of a political party and 10 whiskey bottles were found in it. While the excise and taxation commission imposed a fine of Rs 1 lakh on the driver of the vehicle, the vehicle was handed over to the police.
An official inquiry had recommended action against the SHO of Targarh police station and revealed that there had been no communication between the police and electoral authorities on the status of the vehicle. The vehicle was supposed to be released immediately as no FIR was lodged in the matter, the probe officer had said.
The vehicle was only released in September 2014 after an order in this regard by the Pathankot Deputy Commissioner. Last year, the Pathankot police told the High Court that the vehicle was impounded in accordance with the model code of conduct for putting a flag of a political party on the vehicle without any sanction and carrying liquor meant for distribution to the voters.
However, the police also told the High Court that the vehicle was impounded by the Election Surveillance Team and could not have been released without the order of the District Electoral Officer, who also happens to be the Deputy Commissioner. Sandhu’s counsel Naresh Kaushik had argued that the police and Election Commission officials are shifting blame upon each other.
The High Court, in the judgment, has held that the owner was entitled to have his vehicle released immediately but it remained parked in the police station for five months forcing him to make representations before the authorities.
“In this type of cases where the respondents have though kept the vehicle of the petitioner for five months and are denying to have used it but as they had the possession of the vehicle and could have easily maneuvered the mileage/reading of the meter before returning the vehicle to the petitioner, I am of the considered opinion that the petitioner deserves the amount of compensation, claimed by him in this petition,” the judgement reads.