15 Nov 2010

No writ to return vehicle recovered by Bank: High Court

That the scope of writ petitions is limited largely against the State is a proposition well founded in the jurisprudence which has developed under the Constitutional precincts. In this respect the Constitutional Courts of India have consistently declared that writ petitions would not be issued against private parties where such parties are not performing state/statutory functions. In this line we came across this decision wherein a High Court refused to issue writ against a private bank wherein the allegation was of illegal recovery of vehicle by the bank against the borrower. While the Court declared that there may be a right, the remedy availed was inappropriate.

The Calcutta High Court in a recently reported decision [Rabindra Kumar Singh v. State of West Bengal, AIR 2010 NOC 949] clarified the law in this respect by passing the following judgment;
ICICI Bank Limited, the fifth respondent in the pending art.226 petition dated March 5, 2008, has filed this application for dismissal of the petition on the ground that it is not maintainable. It is submitted that the application has been served. Affidavit of service has been filed. None appears to oppose the application. 
The principal reliefs seeking which the petition has been filed are these: "(a) A writ in the nature of Mandamus commanding and directing the respondents and their men, agents and/or associates, specially upon the respondent no.4 to take immediate steps in terms of illegal dispossession of the vehicle of the petitioner from his rightful possession. (b) A writ in the nature of Mandamus directing the respondent No.5 to take the part-payment of the due installments from your petitioner in respect of the above mentioned  vehicle. (c) A writ in the nature of Mandamus directing the respondent No.5 to release the Jute as early as possible which is in his custody till now."
The petitioner purchased a truck financed by ICICI Bank. Alleging that he failed and neglected to pay the loan according to the terms and conditions of the agreement between the parties, and that the contract entitled it to repossess the vehicle, ICICI Bank took possession of the vehicle on February 10, 2008 under an inventory of that same day, Annexure P2 at p.20. By a letter of that same day, Annexure P4 at p.22, it informed the petitioner that his failure to pay the amount mentioned therein would compel it to dispose of the vehicle.
On February 12, 2008 the petitioner sent by post a letter of that same day, Annexure P3 at p.21, to the officer in charge of Itahar police station in Uttar Dinajpur alleging that on February 10, 2008 certain unknown persons forcibly took possession of the vehicle. He then gave a reply dated February 26, 2008, Annexure P5 at p.23, to the bank's letter dated February 10, 2008 through his advocate offering to pay the loan. Then seeking the above-noted reliefs he brought this petition.
ICICI Bank is not a state within the meaning of art.12 of the constitution and no public law element was involved in the action it took for repossession of the vehicle. It repossessed the vehicle in exercise of its pure private law contractual right flowing from the contract between the parties. On the basis of the letter dated February 12, 2008 the police could not recover the vehicle from it and restore possession thereof to the petitioner. In exercise of power under art.226 this court cannot direct the bank to accept any amount from the petitioner and return the vehicle and goods. 
I am, therefore, of the view that the bank is right in contending that the petition is not maintainable. The petitioner's remedy, if any, was before the appropriate civil and criminal courts. 
For these reasons, I allow the application and dismiss the art.226 petition.

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