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State Of Bombay (Now Gujarat) vs Memon Mahomed Haji Hasam on 5 May, 1967
Showing the contexts in which bailee appears in the document
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It would appear from these provisions that the seizure of the said vehicles was carried out with jurisdiction and -the order of confiscation was also made, apart from the question as to its merits, by a competent officer with jurisdiction. It is also possible to contend that as the said vehicles were sold pursuant to a judicial order no liability can be attached on the State Government for their disposal by public auction. But between their seizure and the auction there was a duty implicit from the provisions of the Act to take reasonable care of the property seized. This is so because .the order of confiscation was not final and was subject to an appeal and a revision before the Home Member and later on before the Revenue Tribunal after Junagadh merged in the State of Saurashtra in 1948-49. The appellant-State was aware that the order of seizure and confiscation was not final being subject to an appeal and was liable to be set aside either in appeal or in revision. It was also aware that if the said order was set aside, the property would have to be returned to the owner thereof in the same state in which it was seized except as to normal depreciation. In spite of this clear position, while the appeal was still pending before the Revenue Tribunal and without waiting for its disposal, it allowed its police authorities to have it disposed of as unclaimed property. The State Government was fully aware, firstly, by reason of the pendency of the appeal and secondly because the application under s. 523 expressly mentioned -the person from whom the said vehicles were seized, that the vehicles were and could not be said to be unclaimed property. In the circumstances, the State Government was during the pendency of the appeal under a statutory duty to take reasonable care of the said vehicles which on the said appeal being decided against it were liable to be returned to their owner. The contention that the order of disposal was a judicial order or that the respondent could have filed a revision application against that order and have it set aside would be beside the point. There being a statutory obligation under the Act to return the property once the order of seizure and confiscation was held to be wrong, the respondent could rely on that obligation and claim the return of the said vehicles. On behalf of the respondent, the contention urged was that though the seizure might be lawful and under the authority of the Statute, the State Government was from the time that the said goods were seized until the decision of the appeal, in a position of a bailee and was, therefore, bound to take reasonable care of the said vehicles. That no such reasonable care was taken and the vehicles remained totally uncared for is not in dispute. Mr. Dhebar's reply was that there was no bailment nor can such bailment be inferred as s. 148 of the Contract Act requires that a bailment can arise only under a contract between the parties. That contention is not sustainable. Bailment is dealt with by the Contract Act only in cases where it arises from a contract but it is not correct to say that there cannot be a bailment without an enforceable contract. As stated in "Possession in the Common Law" by Pollock and Wright, p. 163, "Upon the whole, it is conceived that in general any person is to be considered as a bailee who otherwise than as a servant either receives possession of a thing from another or consents to receive or hold possession of a thing for another upon an understanding with the other person either to keep and return or deliver to him the specific thing or to (convey and) apply the specific thing according to the directions antecedent or future of the other person". 'Bailment is a relationship sui generis and unless it is sought to increase or diminish the burdens imposed upon the bailee by the very fact of the bailment, it is not necessary to incorporate it into the law of contract and to prove a consideration"(1).

There can, therefore, be bailment and the relationship of a bailee in respect of specific property without there being an enforceable contract. Nor is consent indispensable for such a relationship to arise. A finder of goods of another has been held to be a bailee in certain circumstances. On the facts of the present case, the State Government no doubt seized the said vehicles pursuant to the power under the Customs Act. But the power to seize and confiscate was dependent upon a customs offence having been committed or a suspicion that such offence had been committed. The order of the Customs Officer was not final as it was subject to an appeal and if the appellate authority found that there was no good ground for the exercise of that power, 'the property could no longer be retained and had under the Act to be returned to the owner. That being the position and the property being liable to be returned there was not only a statutory obligation to return but until the order of confiscation became final an implied obligation to preserve the property intact and for that purpose to take such care of it as a reasonable person in like circumstances is expected to take. Just as a finder of property has to return it when its owner is found and demands it, so the State Government was bound to return the said vehicles once it was found that the seizure and confiscation were not sustainable. There being thus a legal obligation to preserve the property intact and also the obligation to take reasonable care of it so as to enable the Government to return it in the same condition in which it was seized, the position of the State Government until the order became final would be that of a bailee. If that is the correct position once the Revenue Tribunal set aside the order of the Customs Officer and the Government became liable to return the goods the owner (1) "Law of constract "by Chesire and Fi foot,pp./73,74. 94 5 had the right either to demand the property seized or its value, if, in the meantime the State Government had precluded itself from returning the property either by its own act or that of its agents or servants. This was precisely the cause of action on which the respondent's suit was grounded. The fact that an order for its disposal was passed by a Magistrate would not in an-,, way interfere with or wipe away the right of the owner to demand the return of the property or the obligation of the Government to return it. The order of disposal in any event was obtained on a false representation that the property was an unclaimed pro- perty. Even if the Government cannot be said to be in the position of a bailee, it was in any case bound to return the said property by reason of its statutory obligation or to pay its value if it had disabled itself from returning it either by its own act or by any act of its agents and servants. In these circumstances, it is difficult to apperciate how the contention that the State Government is not liable for any tortious act of its servants can possibly arise. The decisions in State of Rajasthan v. Mst. Vidh- yawati(l) and Kasturilal Jain v. The State of U.P.(2) to which -,Mr. Dhebar drew our attention have no relevance in view of the pleadings of the parties and the cause of action on which the respondent's suit was based.