Supreme Court of India
Criminal Appeal No. 834 of 2009
Bharath Booshan Aggarwal vs. State of Kerala
Facts of the case:-
Appellant over here is a manufacturer and trader of sandalwood oil. On 4 January 1994, Kerala Forest Department seized 37 cartoons containing 460 Kg’s of sandalwood oil at Karipur airport, and after investigation another 73.6 Kg’s of sandalwood oil was found at the premises of the appellant.
Kerala Forest Department alleged that sandalwood oil was forest produce and therefore launched a criminal complaint against the appellant. During the proceedings, the appellant denied the criminal responsibility arguing that sandalwood is the forest produce and not the sandalwood oil. The Judicial Magistrate Thamarasserry (hereafter “the trial court”) convicted the appellant and sentenced him to pay Rs. 2000 as fine and undergo rigorous imprisonment for three years under Section 27 (1) (d) of the Act and six months, under Rule 3 (iii) read with Rule 23 of the Kerala Forest Produce Transit Rules.
The appellant approached the Sessions Court, and the Sessions Court accepted the appeal of the appellant, stating that he possesses the certificate issued by the Central Excise authorities and therefore his possession of sandalwood cannot be termed as illegal.
The State appealed in the High Court, where the High Court stated that though the appellant possessed a license to produce sandalwood oil, as he failed to account for possession of such a large quantity of sandalwood oil it can be termed as illegal. Also, the appellant failed to give any particulars with respect to persons from whom the purchase of the raw material for sandalwood was obtained. The High Court concluded that it could not solely rely on the license of the appellant for having a license does not absolve the appellant of criminal responsibility.
The appellant then approached the Supreme Court. The counsel for the appellant stated that the appellant possessed a license for manufacturing and trading of sandalwood oil, and he has been trading for a long time, and if there was something illegitimate then such exports would have ceased a long time back. The council stated that the appellant had duly maintained the register containing the information as to where and how raw material required for the manufacture of sandalwood oil was obtained, and after submission of that proof, it was prosecution which was supposed to prove that the source of raw material is not legitimate.
The counsel appearing for the State stated that the onus clearly lay upon the appellant to prove that possession of sandalwood oil was lawful, that the forest produce was procured through legitimate sources and not in a manner, contrary to law. But the appellant was not capable to produce anything that proves that the raw material used for sandalwood oil was obtained in a legitimate way and that its possession was legal.
The Supreme Court in the absolute submission stated that in the following case the appellant had produced the record book and also all the invoices of the transaction. According to the appellant the transaction was carried out from various small sellers and for that, the appellant has submitted all the required voicemails. The Supreme Court also stated that it has to be proved by the Forest Department that the accused has knowingly and illegitimately has gained the hold of all the raw material required to produce the sandalwood oil, and then the onus lies on the appellant to prove the contrary.
The Supreme Court held that in their opinion the High Court fell into error, in holding that the presumption that the seizure of forest produces belonging to the State meant that the appellant had conscious knowledge about their illicit nature or origin, or that the accused’s inability to account for a transit pass, implied that they procured the goods illegally, thus attracting Section 27 of Kerala Forest Produce Transit Rules.
And therefore the Supreme Court set aside the order of the High Court and upheld the order passed by the Sessions Court.