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Finance minister scraps 'draconian' clause in customs law
May, 08th 2012

The finance minister on Monday scrapped a proposed tough amendment in the customs and central excise law that would have made granting of bail only after hearing the public prosecutor, bringing much needed relief for the business community, exporters and importers.

Lawmakers had slammed the proposed changes in the Finance Bill and had termed the provisions as "draconian" . Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley had also severely criticized the move.

The proposed amendment in the law had said that notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, no person accused of an offence punishable for a term of imprisonment of three years or more under Section 135 shall be released on bail or on his own bond unless the public prosecutor has been given an opportunity to oppose the application for such release.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, while initiating the discussion on the Finance Bill in Lok Sabha, said he had taken note of the concerns expressed by members. "The House will recall that certain amendments were proposed in the customs and central excise law in respect of the classification of offences as cognizable and non-bailable . In response to concerns expressed by members that the proposal regarding grant of bail only after hearing the public prosecutor is too harsh, I propose to omit this provision entirely ," Mukherjee said.

He said only serious offences under the customs law involving prohibited goods or duty evasion exceeding Rs 50 lakh shall be cognizable. "However, all these offences shall be bailable ," Mukherjee said.

Experts welcomed the move saying it removed uncertainty and fear. "It is a positive move. The key contention was that the court's right to grant bail should not be limited by the appearance of the public prosecutor," said Himanshu Tiwari, partner (indirect tax practice) at consultancy firm BMR Advisors.

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