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2023 (5) TMI 668 - AT - Customs
Seeking provisional release of seized goods under section 110A of Customs Act, 1962 - imports of arecanuts - to be classified under heading 8002 of First Schedule to Customs Tariff Act, 1975 or under tariff item 2106 90 30 of the First Schedule to Customs Tariff Act, 1975? - HELD THAT:- An officer created by statute is, necessarily, limited by the ambit of the statute and customs officers created by section 3 of Customs Act, 1962 are, necessarily, confined to the purpose for which such legislation was enacted, viz., import and export of goods. Consequently, the responsibility for, or authority to enforce, any other law for the time being in force would be contingent upon such law placing some prohibition on imports or exports; even such laws do not concede jurisdictional authority to customs officers except by, and only upon, specific conferment within such statutes. In the absence of such empowerment, not only would chaos result but ever present is potential for overreach should those lacking sufficient expertise in administering such special laws misappropriate authority to enforce. The distinction between enforcing the law and enforcing compliance with the law is not so subtle as not to appeal to reasonableness.
The entire regime for filtration of articles of food, including testing by FSSAI-credited laboratories and reference to FSSAI before clearance thereof, on import is founded upon this distinction in authority to invoke the framework of such legislation and, more especially, involving specialized knowledge. Customs authorities are bound by the sanction and approval accorded, under the aegis of Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, by the designated authority therein as the sole determinant for invoking section 111 of Customs Act, 1962 insofar as articles of food are concerned. An independent ascertainment of fitness for human consumption, without reference to the statutory authority envisaged for the enforcement of Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, is not in public interest and invocation of public health, no matter how convenient it may be for retention of goods, is no substitute for legal jurisdiction.
The prohibition in the notification cited in the impugned order cannot be made applicable to the impugned goods except by invoking provisions of Customs Act, 1962 attracting consequence of misclassification; there is no whiff of such intent. The conclusion that the impugned goods are unfit for human consumption is beyond the scope of jurisdiction conferred by Customs Act, 1962 on the respondent- Commissioner in the absence of determination by the designated authority under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 whose actions are validated by the circumscribing responsibility devolving on such authority - a validation that no customs authority can lay claim to. The grounds evinced for discarding the request for provisional release under section 110A of Customs Act, 1962 are not legally tenable.
It may also be inferred that provisional release is a facilitative measure. Though power to seize has inhered, and as it should, in Customs Act, 1962 from the very beginning, and, indeed, as legacy carried over from section 178 of Sea Customs Act, 1878, for close to a century and half, it was only by section 26 of Taxation Laws (Amendment) Act, 2006, incorporating section 110A in Customs Act, 1962, that provisional release of seized goods by Commissioner of Customs pending order of the adjudicating officer found acknowledgment in law - The law does not intend that State is enriched by fines arising from breach of the law or by substituting for the importer to trade in goods, whether seized or even confiscated. Section 110A is couched in such plain language as to give no room for controversy in interpretation or speculation of legislative intent; indeed, it does not even offer scope for discriminatory treatment among imported goods.
The impugned goods are directed to be provisionally released on furnishing of bond to the extent of value of the goods and subject to the procedural safeguards implicit in section 47 of Customs Act, 1962 within ten days of receipt of this order.
Appeal disposed off.