Joymalya Bagchi, J.
1. The appeal is directed against the judgment and order dated 19.11.2016 & 20.12.2016 passed by the learned Additional Sessions Judge, 1st Court at Siliguri in Sessions Trial No.12/2013 corresponding to Sessions Case No.51(4)/2013 convicting the appellant for commission of offence punishable under Sections 489B/489C of the Indian Penal Code and sentencing him to suffer rigorous imprisonment for life and to pay a fine of Rs.30,000/- in default to rigorous imprisonment for a further period of six months for the commission of offence punishable under Section 489B of the Indian Penal Code and also sentencing him to suffer rigorous imprisonment for a period of seven years and to pay a fine of Rs.30,000/- in default to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a further period of six months for the commission of offence punishable under Section 489C of the Indian Penal Code. Both the sentences shall run concurrently.
2. Prosecution case, as alleged against the appellant is to the effect that the appellant along with one Asha Sah @ Turaha (since deceased) were apprehended at about 13.50 hrs of 31.12.2012 by P.W.2, S. S. Gupta, Senior Intelligence Officer, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Siliguri Regional Unit at Siliguri Junction Railway Station area in front of ticket counter of M/s. Jay Maa Ambay Travels when they were about to board a Bihar bound bus named ATIANA on the suspicion that they were smuggling Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICNs) from Siliguri to Bihar. Upon searching their bag a huge quantity of Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICNs), that is, 599 number of currency notes of denomination of Rs.1000/- each and 798 numbers of currency notes of denomination of Rs.500/- each, totaling Rs.9,98,000/- were seized under Section 110 of the Customs Act on the reasonable belief that the said consignment was illegally imported into India from Bangladesh for widely circulation in Indian market. The appellants were arrested by the said officer under Section 104 of the Customs Act. At that time co-accused Asha Sah felt uneasy and was admitted to Siliguri District Hospital. Thereafter, P.W.2 lodged written complaint at Pradhannagar P.S. resulting in registration of Pradhannagar P.S. Case No.1/13 dated 1.1.2013 under Section 489B/489C of IPC. During investigation, Arabinda Pandit (P.W.9) made prayer for police custody of the appellants. He also re-seized the FICNs from P.W.2 under a seizure list and sent the seized currency notes to General Manager, Bharatiya Note Mudran Limited, Salboni, West Midnapore for examination. Subsequently, the investigation was handed over to Niloy Jha (P.W.13) who conducted raid at Bettiah, West Champaran, Bihar and arrested two accused persons, namely, Lal Babu Sha and Surendra Sharma. Upon obtaining report of the expert he submitted charge sheet. Charges were framed against the appellants Ram Pravesh Sah @ Ram Prabesh Gupta, Asha Sah @ Turaha, Lalbabu Sah and Surendra Thakur @ Sharma under Section 489B/34 and 489C/34 of the IPC.
3. In the course of trial, two of the accused persons, namely, Lalbabu Sah and Surendra Thakur @ Sharma absconded while the other accused Asha Sah @ Turaha expired. In conclusion of trial, the trial Judge by the impugned judgement and order dated 19th December/20th December, 2016 convicted and sentenced the appellant, as aforesaid.
4. Mr. Mukherjee, learned Counsel appearing for the appellant argued that the prosecution case has not been proved beyond reasonable doubt. Evidence of official witnesses are contradictory to one another. There is no evidence that the appellant was apprehended with FICNs at the spot. Search and seizure were allegedly effected at the D.R.I. office exposing the hollowness of the prosecution case. Independent witnesses are unreliable. Change of custody of the seized FICNs has not been established and the FSL report cannot be relied upon. Hence, prosecution case has not been proved beyond doubt.
5. Mr. Sur, learned Additional Public Prosecutor argued that the version of the official witnesses are corroborated by independent witnesses P.Ws. 1 and 5. Chain of custody with regard to the FICNs had been established and the report of the expert marked as "Exbt.-23" shows that the seized currency notes were counterfeits. Hence, the prosecution case has been able to prove its case beyond doubt.
6. P.W. 2, Siddhartha Shankar Gupta, was posted as Senior Intelligence Officer, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Siliguri Regional Unit. On 31.12.12 at 12.00 noon he received the information that two persons were smuggling huge quantity of fake Indian currency notes from Siliguri to Bihar. He along with other officers went to old Bihar bus stand near Siliguri Junction. They kept vigil at the spot. Around 1.30 p.m. they saw one aged lady with another person about to board a Motihari bound bus. Out of suspicion they intercepted them. The suspects were carrying a red coloured cloth bag. On opening the bag they found huge quantity of currency notes in the denomination of Rs.500/- and Rs.1,000/- each. On query the male person disclosed his identity as Ram Prabesh Sah and the lady disclosed his identity as Asha Debi Sah. For the purpose of search the aforesaid persons along with currency notes were taken to DRI office. Independent witnesses also came to the office. Upon search they found six bundles of currency notes of denomination of Rs.1,000/- each numbering 599 and eight bundles of currency notes of denomination of Rs.500/- each numbering 798 totalling to Rs.9,98,000/-. On preliminary inspection, P.W. 2 suspected the currency notes to be fake. He issued summons upon the appellant and recorded his statement. Subsequently, he arrested the appellant.
7. P.W. 3, Basudeb Chakraborty, seized the currency notes which were packed, sealed, labelled and signed by the appellant. The appellant was arrested but Asha Sah complained of chest pain. Accordingly, she was admitted to Siliguri District Hospital and subsequently shown arrested. He proved his signature on the seals of the seized notes. A mobile phone was also seized from the appellant. He proved his signature on the paper packet in which the mobile phone has been kept. He deposed that on 01.01.2013 the appellant produced before the learned Magistrate and on 02.01.2013 police re-seized the articles from their office. He proved his signature on the seizure list (Ext.3/1). He identified the seized articles in Court.
8. P.W. 4, Mahesh Thakur, is the driver of the vehicle used by P.Ws. 1 and 2 to conduct the raid. He corroborated the evidence of the said witnesses.
9. P.W. 1, Bimal Paul, and P.W. 5, Utpal Kumar Deb, are the independent witnesses of the aforesaid seizure from the appellant.
10. P.W. 1 deposed on 31.12.2012 in the afternoon he was returning home for having lunch when D.R.I. officials requested him to join the search. He accompanied them to D.R.I. office where search was conducted and fake currency notes were recovered from the appellant. He proved his signature on the seizure list as well as on the bag in which the fake currency notes were kept.
11. P.W. 5, a booking counter employee of Jay Maa Ambey Booking Counter witnessed the apprehension of the appellant along with Asha Devi Sah at the counter and witnessed the search and seizure of a large quantity of FICNs from the appellant at the DRI office.
12. Analysis of the aforesaid evidence on record leaves no doubt in my mind that the appellant and one Asha Sah were apprehended in front of Jay Maa Ambey Booking Counter and subsequently upon search a large number of currency notes, suspected to be fake, were recovered from their possession. I am unable to accept the submission of the learned Counsel appearing for the appellant as search and seizure had not been conducted at the spot there is every likelihood of false implication. Independent witnesses viz. P.Ws. 1 and 5 have corroborated the versions of official witnesses viz. P.Ws. 2,3 and 4 with regard to apprehension of the appellant and Asha Sah from the spot and recovery of a large quantity of FICNs from a red coloured bag carried by them at the DRI office.
13. P.W. 2 explained due to commotion at the spot they proceeded to D.R.I. office to effect the search. Such explanation in the backdrop of corroboration from independent witnesses with regard to apprehension of the appellant with a red coloured bag containing FICNs at the spot erases all doubt from my mind with regard to their false implication.
14. It has also been argued that witnesses did not put their signature on the labels attached to the FICNs. The aforesaid submission is also of little substance as P.W. 1 proved his signature on the paper packet in which the FICNs had been kept.
15. Let me see whether chain of custody of the seized FICNs have been established or not. After registration of F.I.R. by P.W. 2 seized FICNs were re-seized by P.W. 9, first investigating officer. He has proved the seizure list marked as "Exbt.-1". P.W.3 corroborated the evidence of P.W.9 and deposed on 02.01.2013 he had handed over the seized alamats to P.W. 9 at the DRI office. Subsequently, sample currency notes were sent to General Manager, Bharatiya Note Mudran Limited, Salboni, West Midnapore for examination.
16. Pw13, Niloy Jha attached to the Detective Department, Siliguri Police Commissionerate, took over the investigation of the case as the second I.O. He conducted raid at Bettiah, Bihar and arrested co-accused persons. He seized mobile phones and SIM Cards from them. Upon receipt of examination report (Ext.23) he submitted charge-sheet.
17. From the aforesaid evidence on record, particularly that of PW3 and PW9 along with Exhibit 1 it is proved the currency notes recovered from the appellant by DRI Officers were re-seized by the police in the course of investigation. Serial number of the currency notes as noted in the seizure list tallied with the currency notes which were examined by the Expert as evident from his report (Ext.23). Therefore, chain of custody of the seized currency notes and those examined by the Expert has been fully established.
18. Report of the Expert (Ext. 23) showed that the seized currency notes were fake.
19. In the light of the aforesaid discussion, I am of the opinion that the prosecution has been able to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.
20. Conviction of the appellant is upheld.
21. Coming to the issue of sentence, I find that the appellant has been imposed the maximum sentence of life imprisonment for the charge under Section 489B of the Indian Penal Code. Although a huge quantity of FICNs were recovered, nothing has been on record that the appellant
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has prior criminal conviction. 22. Accordingly, I modify the sentence imposed on the appellant and direct that he shall suffer rigorous imprisonment for ten years and to pay a fine of Rs.30,000/- in default to rigorous imprisonment for a further period of six months for the commission of offence punishable under Section 489B of the Indian Penal Code and shall suffer rigorous imprisonment for a period of seven years and to pay a fine of Rs.30,000/- in default to undergo rigorous imprisonment for a further period of six months for the commission of offence punishable under Section 489C of the Indian Penal Code, both the sentences to run concurrently. 23. Period of detention suffered by the appellant during investigation, enquiry and trial shall be set off from the substantive sentence imposed upon him in terms of 428 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. 24. Appeal is accordingly disposed of. 25. Copy of the judgment along with L.C.R. be sent down to the trial court at once. 26. Urgent Photostat Certified copy of this order, if applied for, be supplied expeditiously after complying with all necessary legal formalities. 27. I agree.