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Draconian amendment in Customs law set to be dropped
April, 25th 2012

A tough new amendment to the Customs Act proposed in the finance Bill, 2012, making even a trivial offence like misdeclaring the value of goods non-bailable, is likely to be dropped. The proposed amendment drew widespread criticism, with senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley comparing it with anti-terror law POTA.

The proposed section 104A, under clause 121, said that irrespective of CrPC provisions, a person accused of an offence punishable with imprisonment of three years or more will not get bail without the public prosecutor having an opportunity to oppose it. In cases where the prosecutor opposes bail, the magistrate can order release only if he is convinced that the person is not guilty.

The amendment essentially made small offences like duty evasion or misdeclaration of value non-bailable, raising the spectre of a return to the pre-liberalisation era in which the taxman had enormous powers. Legal experts say the proposal made the Customs Act more stringent than the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, one of Indias most draconian laws.

In an interview to The Indian Express last week, Finance Secretary R S Gujral said, We are trying to address the issue. The finance minister is aware of the concern. Ministry sources said the provision may be watered down, or clause 121 may be completely omitted.

During the debate on the budget in Parliament, Jaitley had argued that such a provision was not required for tariff- or duty-related offences.

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