Customs – Cestat Mumbai: There has been substantial delay between the issuance of charge-sheet under the extant Regulations and the culmination in revocation – Casual disregard of timelines is not to be encouraged as it would only lead to stealthy dilution of timelines that the CBIC has considered appropriate to bind authorities subordinate to it with - Appeal allowed [Order attached]
Order date – 17 November 2022
- The appellant, Varun Freight Forwarders, a customs broker licensed under Customs House Agents Licencing Regulations (CHALR), 1984. Upon completion of investigation into alleged misdeclaration of 'MPEG cards or mounted PCB for set top box' as 'PCB cards for VCD players' in imports effected by three clients.
- Three charges were framed in the notice issued to them to be inquired into by authority appointed on 21st January 2009 which, however, remained inconclusive till 14th August 2018 upon another officer being appointed for the purpose and it was held that the charges to be proved and the proceedings culminated in revocation of license.
- The licencing authority had alleged evasion of ₹ 5,46,75,693 as duties of customs by their clients.
- Whether the appellant had been suspended and then revoked with an interlude of operability?
- The Tribunal finds from the records that the licence of the appellant had been suspended and then revoked with an interlude of operability. It is also on record that the adjudication proceedings did not find it appropriate to penalize the appellant herein. Also there is no evidence on record that the alleged non-compliance, as enumerated, was either at the initiative of the appellant or could have been forestalled by awareness of the alleged misdeclaration.
- The Tribunal relied on the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in Assistant Collector of Central Excise, Rajamundry v. Duncan Agro Industries Ltd and in KI Pavunny v. Assistant Collector wherein it was held that had considered the correctness of statements, recorded without the preliminaries enshrined in section 164 of Criminal Procedure Code, being relied upon for evidence in trial proceedings under Central Excise Act. 1944 and Customs Act, 1962. The direction of theHon’ble High Court was specific to the submissions made therein and upon the decisions cited by the rival sides in that proceeding.
- The licencing authority should have borne in mind that the law that was espoused in arguments on validity of statements recorded by officers of central excise and officers of customs, had undergone substantial transformation in Finance Act, 1988 by incorporation of section 138B in Customs Act, 1962. Hence, the absence of evidence sufficient enough to corroborate statements that was the foundation for depriving a customs broker of his livelihood, and of others employed by him, prejudices the sustainability of revocation.
- There is no justification offered for the delay; nor do we find from the records that the appellant, by acts of omission and commission, had contributed to the delay. On the other hand, it appears that the first inquiry authority had failed to take up the task assigned to him till his retirement and licencing authority did permit that state of affairs to continue without monitorial oversight.
- Casual disregard of timelines is not to be encouraged as it would only lead to stealthy dilution of timelines that the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) has considered appropriate to bind authorities subordinate to it with. Hence the appeal was allowed.