SEZ issue: Vallarpadam terminal takes Customs to court
November, 30th 2011
India Gateway Terminal Pvt Ltd (IGTPL), which operates the ICTT at Vallarpadam, has approached the Kerala High Court against the Customs authorities move to withdraw its staff from the terminal gate.
Though the petition came up before the Court on Monday evening, Mr Justice P.N. Ravindran declined to hear the matter and ordered that it be posted and be heard by another judge.
The petition, which came up for hearing before Mr Justice SiriJagan on Tuesday, challenged the action by the Customs Commissioner as usurping jurisdiction on the IGTPL unit situated in the Vallarpadam SEZ.
It contended that the move was contrary to the clear mandate of Sec 51 of the SEZ Act.
IGTPL also challenged the delay and inaction on the part of the of Ministry of Shipping, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry as well as the Cabinet Secretary in formulating and publishing a policy on the operation of port-based special economic zones that have resulted in the present standoff.
The High Court has issued an urgent notice to all the respondents concerned including the Ministry of Shipping, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry and the Cabinet Secretariat by speed-post returnable within a period of two weeks.
Mr Joy Thattil, who appeared for the petitioner, said that the Court has further clarified that those respondents who would like to file a counter affidavit shall file the same within two weeks and the matter further posted after two weeks.
When the petitioner has expressed their anxiety in withdrawing the Customs officers from the terminal by the Customs Commissioner, the court clarified that there is no room for such anxiety, as the matter in issue has already been taken on the files of the court and was pending consideration, Mr Thattil said.
According to the petitioner, the Customs Commissioner, Kochi, had written to the Kochi Port Chairman stating the move to withdraw staff from the terminal gate for not demarcating an area inside the terminal for examination of cargo.
The petitioner feared that if the Customs authorities withdrew its staff and prevented cargoes from getting exported or imported, such a decision would be contrary to the SEZ Act and the SEZ rules. It would badly affect containerised trade and commerce from the Kochi port.
According to the petitioner, a container terminal came under the definition of processing unit' under the SEZ Act. Under the Act, no Customs examination could be carried out or conducted in the processing area of any SEZ. Customs officials could conduct such examination only in the non-processing area of a SEZ.
The Customs authorities recently made a demand for demarcation of an examination area inside the terminal. But the petitioner refused to concede it on the ground that the entire premises were a processing zone under the SEZ Act, which did not permit Customs authorities to set up such a facility.