The Madras High Court on Wednesday made it clear that the police as well as revenue officials cannot let go the private water tanker lorries, which transport illegally extracted groundwater from suburban localities to Chennai city, by merely imposing fines on the lorry drivers and owners.
Stating that the payment of fine amounts to admission of the offence, the court insisted upon seizure of all properties related to the crime.
A Division Bench of Justices S. Manikumar and Subramonium Prasad said: “We come across cases where vehicles seized are released on payment of fine. Once the offender has paid the fine, it implies that commission of offence is admitted. As per Section 12-A of the Chennai Metropolitan Area Ground Water (Regulation) Act of 1987, the vehicles and the apparatus used should be confiscated after following due process of law.”
The judges wanted the Collectors of Chennai, Kancheepuram and Tiruvallur to take note of the provisions of the 1987 Act since it applies to areas within the three districts ever since the territorial limits of Chennai city were extended to many parts of those districts.
Even in so far as other districts were concerned, Section 102 of the Code of Criminal Procedure provides for seizing of all properties related to a crime, they pointed out.
The Bench also directed the Tiruvallur District Revenue Officer (DRO) and Poonnamalee Taluk Tahsildar to appear before the court on Thursday and explain the reason for not having inspected an alleged illegal groundwater tapping unit in Pidiarithangal Village in Banaveduthottam Panchayat Union despite a specific direction issued by it on Friday. The Collector was also ordered to explain why no action was initiated against the two officials for disobeying court orders.
Passing interim orders on a public interest litigation petition alleging unauthorised drawal of drinking water from some private lands in Pidiarithangal village, the court had directed the officials to forthwith inspect the premises from where the water was being drawn and seize the electrical motors as well as other apparatus used to extract water if the charges were found to be true.
They were also ordered to seize the vehicles used for transportation of water.
However, when the case got listed on Wednesday, the petitioner’s counsel B. Janakiram complained to the court that the officials had not inspected the spot as directed by the court and that illegal drawal of water was continuing unabated in the village. He also submitted photographs to substantiate his claim.
Irked over such a complaint, the judges summoned the two officials to the court to explain whey were the directions not complied with.