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Move to amend Customs Act draws criticism
April, 02nd 2012

Opposition parties are set against a budget proposal that seeks to undo a Supreme Court ruling last year that stripped customs and central excise officials of their power of arrest.

File Photo
The Finance Bill proposes an amendment to the Customs Act and the Central Excise Act to make arrests non-bailable if the offences are punishable by more than three years in jail, placing the proposed law on par with some of Indias repealed terror laws. Effectively, if a person is arrested for a serious customs offence under the proposed law, he will not be eligible for bail until a public prosecutor is allowed to present his case, which could mean a longer wait than is required now.

Bharatiya Janata Partys Arun Jaitley, leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said in Parliament last week that the governments intent was not proportional to the magnitude of the offence. You dont need a hammer to kill a fly...a provision of this kind which you said should not even apply to terrorists, you are saying now in custom offences they will apply, Jaitley told the Upper House. Slowly, once you do it in customs offences, in every economic offence it will start applying. There is no better advice you can give to businesses than thisdont invest in India because if you do, these are going to be the consequences. Jaitley referred to the now-repealed Prevention of Terrorism Act (Pota) and Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (Tada), in which law-enforcing authorities could detain suspects without courts being able to grant them bail. (the government) have slipped into the budget, in the Customs Act, the bail provisions of Pota and Tada. There might be a dispute of value addition. There might be a genuine case of evasion. But then the proportionality of the offences and the manner in which the law deals with him, there must be some nexus between the two. You have bought in a disproportionate provision, he said.

On 30 September, the Supreme Court ruled that all offences under the Customs Act and Central Excise Act should be non-cognizable and bailable. The Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC) then began lobbying with the finance ministry to amend the law to overcome the ruling, Mint reported on 24 October.

This is not a wise step and these amendments can be subjected to misuse. This will only increase litigation, said Bina Gupta, a Supreme Court lawyer. The veracity of the cases are not checked while admitting them and, hence, small entrepreneurs may face harassment.

The government, in the Finance Bill 2012-13, proposes to amend section 104 of the Customs Act, 1962, and section 13 of the Central Excise Act, 1944, to make all offences that attract more than three years of imprisonment cognizable and non-bailable.

A CBEC official defended the amendment saying it was to ensure that serious offenders do not go scot-free. Post the apex court judgement, even those offenders who were smuggling arms and ammunition and fake currency were able to get bail, he said. This amendment will bring to book those caught in anti-national activities. But it is not for harassing people caught for minor offences.

Tax provisions: trade bodies express concern

New Delhi: In a letter addressed to the Prime Minister and finance minister, seven global trade bodies representing more than 250,000 companies have expressed deep concerns about the tax provisions in the Finance Bill 2012-13.

The seven trade bodies are: the US Council for International Business; Confederation of British Industries; Capital Market Tax Committee of Asia; Japan Foreign Trade Council; Business Round Table; Canadian Council; and National Foreign Trade Council.

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