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M.S.S. Foods Processors Versus Commissioner of Central Excise, Customs and Service Tax, Indore

2016 (8) TMI 837 - CESTAT NEW DELHI

Whether an appeal would lie against the decision rejecting the request for cross examination - Held that:- by following the judgement of the Hon'ble Delhi High Court in the case of J & K Cigarettes v CCE [2009 (8) TMI 64 - DELHI HIGH COURT] and Tribunal's decision in the case of Swiber Offshore Construction Pvt Ltd v CC [2013 (11) TMI 1232 - CESTAT AHMEDABAD] where it was held that it is always open to the affected party to challenge the invocation of provisions of Section 9D of the Act in a par .....

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tention of the appellant regarding Section 9D of the Act and the manner in which it is to operate and, therefore, seeks to be provided the records of the examination-in-chief of the witnesses whose statements are referred to in the Show Cause Notice dated 06.07.2012 issued to the appellant, so that the appellant could, if necessary, seeks cross-examination of the said witnesses are no longer res-integra and stands decided by a number of authorities, most recently by Hon'ble Punjab and Harayana H .....

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mandate of Section 9D of the Act, in accordance with the directions contained in the judgment of Hon'ble High Court of Punjab & Haryana in Ambika International (supra). - Appeal disposed of - E/51793 of 2016 - SM - 52551/2016 - Dated:- 23-6-2016 - Mr. M.V. Ravindran, Member (Judicial) Shri S. Sunil, Advocate for appellant Shri M.R. Sharma, AR for respondent ORDER The appellant, in the present appeal has challenged the decision taken by the Principal Commissioner rejecting the request for cross- .....

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der Sub Heading 2106 9020 and 2403 9990, respectively of the First Schedule to the Central Excise Tariff Act, 1985. Show Cause Notice, dated 06.07.2012, was issued to the appellant and other noticees, proposing differential duty demand along with interest and penalty, and calling upon the appellant to show cause there against. Any detailed reference to the allegations in the Show Cause Notice would not be merited in the present case, however, it may be mentioned that the Show Cause Notice relied .....

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Pintu Sharma, Machine Operator in the factory of Mahadev (viii) Shri Vinod Kumar Shukla, who was engaged in filling loose Gutkha in pouch packing machines, (ix) Shri Nathu Singh, Security guard in the factory of Mahadev, (x) Shri D.B. Pujari, Notary (xi) Shri Omprakash Talreja (xii) Shri Gani Khan (xiii) Shri Abdul Salam, S/o Shri Gani Khan (xiv) Shri Paras Kumar, (xv) Shri K M Jaiswal, Notary (xvi) Shri H.S. Tuteja, hand-writing expert (xvii) Shri Suresh Katiyal of M/s Shiv Udyog (xviii) Shri .....

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ited, in the said letter, to the provisions of Section 9D of the Act, with the specific averment that any statement, recorded before a gazetted Central Excise officer, under the Act, would be relevant in adjudication proceedings only if the maker of the said statement was examined in chief and his cross examination is allowed. As such, it was requested, vide the said communication, that the records of examination in chief of the persons whose statements were relied upon in the Show Cause Notice .....

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ticee No:3) and Shri Ramesh Kumar Dammani (Noticee No.4) On the captioned subject, the appropriate authority has observed that Shri Anmol Mishra (Noticee No.3) and Shri Ramesh Kumar Dammani (Noticee No.4) are also the co-noticees, and hence this authority cannot direct him to be present for cross examination which may cause him to incriminate himself and therefore, the request for their cross-examination is not granted. In this regard, reliance is placed on the following case law: (i) In the cas .....

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he appropriate authority. 5. The present appeal is directed against the said letter 20.05.2016, issued to the appellant by the Superintendent (Adjudication) purporting to communicate, to the appellant, the decision of the Commissioner, rejecting the request contained in the appellants earlier letter dated 05.04.2016 (supra). As the adjudicating authority was proceeding with the adjudication proceeding, the appellant made a request for immediate hearing of the appeal. The request of the appellan .....

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s to the Appellate Tribunal. It was argued that the provision for appeal is very much clear inasmuch it clearly states that a decision or order taken by the adjudicating authority can be appealed before the Appellate Tribunal. Adjudicating authority has been defined under the Act to mean any authority competent to pass any order or decision under this Act, but does not include the Central Board of Excise and Customs constituted under the Central Boards of Revenue Act, 1963 (54 of 1963), Commissi .....

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appeal lies against the decision rejecting cross examination: (i) Delta Overseas v Commissioner of C.Ex & S.T v Delta Overseas, 2016 (333) ELT 126 (T) (ii) Jhaveri Polymers Pvt Ltd v CCE, 2009 (236) ELT 508 (T) 8. I have carefully considered the arguments raised by both the sides on this preliminary issue. The decisions cited by the learned DR are of this Hon ble Tribunal. In this regard, I find that the issue of maintaining an appeal against the decision rejecting cross examination stands d .....

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119 (T), entertained an appeal against the decision rejecting the prayer of the appellant in that case for permission to cross examine witness as an when the revenue was seeking to place reliance. Para 12 of the judgement of this Tribunal in the said case reads as under: 12. The appeals are therefore allowed with direction to the Respondent adjudicating authority to follow Section 138B and to forthwith summon the witnesses for examination under intimation to the appellant, and to offer them for .....

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and this Tribunal s decision in Swiber Offshore (supra), I am of the view that an appeal is maintainable against the decision rejecting cross examination. Even as per the provisions of Section 35B of the Act read with the definition of adjudicating authority , this Tribunal has the power to entertain an appeal against the decision rejecting cross-examination. Therefore, the preliminary objection stands overruled. 8.3 On merits, the appellants, in the present case, limit their challenge to the re .....

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the Act in all other cases, the maker of the said statement has to be examined in chief before the adjudicating authority, who, thereafter, has to arrive at a reasoned conclusion that the statement deserves to be admitted in evidence, where after he has to offer the maker of the said statement to the assessee, for cross-examination if sought. The appellant emphasises that, in fact, the impugned communication is not only clearly contrary to Section 9D of the Act it, in fact, completely misunderst .....

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so that they could cross-examine the makers of the said statements. In fact, the impugned letter dated 20.05.2016 is completely silent on the actual request of the appellant as contained in its letter dated 05.04.2016. The appellant in support of their contention has handed over a compilation of judgments on the issue of examination in chief and cross examination. My attention was specifically drawn to the recent judgement dated 17.06.2016 of the Hon ble Punjab and Harayana High High Court in Am .....

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d reveal that the appellant is right in its contention that the impugned letter dated 05.04.2016 does not answer, in terms, the appellants request as contained in the letter dated 05.04.2016, but purports to reject indeed, the request of cross examination of S/Shri Anmol Mishra and Ramesh Kumar Dammani. No such request is contained in the letter dated 05.04.2016 addressed by the appellant to the Commissioner. The letter dated 05.04.2016, quite categorically, sets out the contention of the appell .....

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-integra. They stand decided by a number of authorities, most recently, by the judgement dated 17.06.2016 of the Honble Punjab & Haryana High Court in Ambika International v UOI. Section 9D of the Act reads as under: SECTION 9D.?Relevancy of statements under certain circumstances. - (1) A statement made and signed by a person before any Central Excise Officer of a gazetted rank during the course of any inquiry or proceeding under this Act shall be relevant, for the purpose of proving, in an .....

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the Court is of opinion that, having regard to the circumstances of the case, the statement should be admitted in evidence in the interests of justice. (2) The provisions of sub-section (1) shall, so far as may be, apply in relation to any proceeding under this Act, other than a proceeding before a Court, as they apply in relation to a proceeding before a Court. 9.3 Even without referring to the various judicial authorities on the subject, there appears to be no ambiguity whatsoever in the word .....

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of the contents thereof, if the case falls either under clause (a) or clause (b) thereof. Sub-Section (2) of the said Section makes the provision of sub-Section (1) applicable to adjudicatory proceedings under the Act as well, as also held by the Hon ble Delhi High Court in para 12 of its judgment in J & K Cigarettes (supra), in the following words: Sub-section (2) extends the provision of sub-section (1) to any proceedings under the Act other than a proceeding before the Court. In this man .....

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out an amount of delay or expense which, under the circumstances of the case, the Court considers unreasonable. 9.4 In case none of the above circumstances contemplated in clause (a) of Section 9D(1) applies, then clause (b) categorically mandates that the statement shall be treated as relevant for the purposes of proving the truth of the facts which contains only when the person who made the statement is examined as a witness in the case before the Court (or adjudicating authority) and the Cour .....

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reafter, has to arrive at an opinion that having regarded to the circumstances of the case, the statement should be admitted in evidence in the interests of justice. It is only after both these steps are complied with, that the statement would be eligible for being treated as relevant in the proceedings so that the assessee can, if it so chooses, exercise its option to test the evidence by way of cross examination. 9.6 It may be stated, at this juncture, itself, that there does not appear, at th .....

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n of the Hon ble Punjab & Haryana High Court in Ambika International (supra). 9.7 Reference may, however, be made to various judicial authorities relied upon by the appellant, which delineated the contours of Section 9D of the Act, as under: (i) In Sukhwant Singh V State of Punjab (1995) 3 SCC 367, referring to Section 138 of the Evidence Act, 1872, clearly held as under: Section 138. Evidence Act envisages that a witness would first be examined in-chief and then subjected to cross-examinati .....

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CCR 2221) which holds as under: Even with regard to the prayer for permitting the applicant to cross-examine the plaintiff, the prayer is misconceived as the question of cross-examination arises only when a witness has tendered evidence in chief examination. Under Section 138 of the Indian Evidence Act, cross-examination follows chief examination, but not without chief-examination. If there is no chief-examination, there is no cross-examination. It is only witness who is examined in chief who ca .....

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udicating authority in light of Section 138B of the Act, to summon witnesses for examination and to offer them for cross-examination if their statements were to be considered as relevant and admitted in evidence in the interest of justice. 11. We also find that the denial of request to permit cross-examination of the Chief Chemist (DGH), whose opinion is relied in the show cause notice, is also wholly unjustified. 12. The appeals are therefore allowed with direction to the Respondent adjudicatin .....

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the time as directed by the Hon ble High Court. 9.9 Similarly, para 16 of the judgement of the Hon ble Allahabad High Court in CCE v Parmath Iron Pvt Ltd, 2010 (250) ELT 514 (All.) holds in a similar vein thus: 16. We, therefore, have no hesitation in holding, that there is no requirement in the Act or Rules, nor do the principles of natural justice and fair play require that the witnesses whose statements were recorded and relied upon to issue the show cause notice, are liable to be examined at .....

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Supreme Court in CC v Bussa Overseas Properties Ltd, 2007 (216) ELT 659 (SC) by upholding the order of this Tribunal in Bussa Overseas Properties Ltd v CC, 2001 (137) ELT 637 (T). 9.11 That any official action has to be done in the manner prescribed, or not at all, is a well settled axiom of administrative law, which was first expostulated in Taylor v Taylor LR1 Ch.D 426, adopted by the Privy Coucil in Nazir Ahmed v King Emperor AIR 1936 PC 253 and thereafter followed by the Hon ble Supreme Cour .....

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adjudicating authority were not put to examination-in-chief before providing an opportunity of cross examination. A plain reading of sub-section (1) of section 9D makes it clear that clauses (a) and (b) of the said sub-section set out the circumstances in which a statement, made and signed by a person before the Central Excise Officer of a gazette rank, during the course of inquiry or proceeding under the Act, shall be relevant, for the purpose of proving the truth of the facts contained therei .....

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rcumstances are absent, therefore, the statement, which has been made during the course of inquiry/investigation, before a gazette Central Excise Officer, cannot be treated as relevant for the purpose of proving the facts contained therein as observed by Hon'ble Delhi High Court in the case of J.k.Cigarettes (supra) wherein hon'ble high court has observed as under:- 12. Bare reading of the above section manifests that under certain circumstances, as stipulated therein, statement made and .....

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he provision of sub-section (1) to any proceedings under the Act other than a proceeding before the Court. In this manner, Section 9D can be utilized in adjudication proceedings before the Collector as well. In the present case, provisions of Section 9-D of the Act were invoked by the Collector holding that it was not possible to procure the attendance of some of the witnesses without undue delay or expense. Whether such a finding was otherwise justified or not can be taken up in the appeal. 9. .....

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d by the adjudicating authority, under clause (b) of section 9D(1) (t) the person who made the statement has to first be examined as a witness in the case before the adjudicating authority, and (ii) the adjudicating authority has, thereafter, to form the opinion that, having regard to the circumstances of the case, the statement should be admitted in evidence in the interest of justice. The same view has been taken by hon'ble Allahabad High Court in the case of Parmarth Iron Pvt.Ltd. (supra) .....

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to rely on the statements, then in that event, the persons whose statements are relied upon have to be made available for cross-examination for the evidence or statement to be considered. 10. We further find that in the case of Smt.Sharadamma (supra), hon'ble Karnataka High Court has observed as under:- 9. It is not the duty of the Court to direct the parties or compel the parties as to in what manner they should conduct their case before the Court or also what quality of evidence they shoul .....

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f-examination. If there is no chief-examination, there is no cross examination. It is only witness who is examined in chief who can be cross-examined. Therefore, a prayer for cross-examination of the plaintiff even when the plaintiff has not been examined in chief is ridiculous and not provided for under Section 138 of the Evidence Act. The Trial Court has rightly rejected the application. No scope for interference with an order of this nature. 11. We further find that in the case of Swiber Offs .....

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jective formation of opinion based on any material on record to come to the conclusion that any specified circumstance mentioned in Section 138B(1)(a) exists. These circumstances mentioned in Section 138B(1)(a) are also contained in pan materia Section 9D(1)(a) and were recorded as follows in J.K. Cigarettes Ltd., 2009 (242) E.L.T. 189 (Del.) "25. Section 9D of the Act stipulates following five circumstances, already taken note of, under which statements previously recorded can be made rele .....

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uthority was therefore bound to follow the binding precedent and in absence of any specified circumstance to consider the statement relevant without examining the witnesses, erred in rejecting the request of the appellant to examine the witnesses and to offer them for cross-examination. 8. The appellant has also relied on the judgment of Hon'ble Apex Court inSukhwant Singh v. State of Punjab, (1995) 3 SCC 367 to give emphasis on his submission that examination of witness is mandatory unless .....

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s but the cross-examination need not be confined to the facts to which the witness testified on his examination-in-chief. Direction for re-examination. - The re-examination shall be directed to the explanation of matters referred to in cross-examination; and if new matter is, by permission of the Court, introduced in re-examination, the adverse party may further cross-examine upon that matter." 10. We therefore find force in the submission of the ld. counsel for the appellant. We find no re .....

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l cannot or need not been proved for degree of mathematical precision or that the department governed by strict rules of evidence is again no answer, The department is certainly bound by the contents of the Customs Act, 1962 and the general principles of evidence. which has been affirmed by the Apex Court. 13. We further find that Hon'ble Punjab & Haryana High Court in the case of Sukhwant Singh it has been observed as under:- 8. It will be pertinent at this stage to refer to section 138 .....

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ion of matters referred to in cross-examination; and if new matter is, by permission of the Court, introduced in re-examination, the adverse party may further cross-examine upon that matter." 9. It would, thus be seen that Section 138 (supra) envisages that a witness would first be examined-in-chief and then subjected to cross-examination and for seeking any clarification, the witness may be re-examined by prosecution. There is, in our opinion, no meaning in tendering a witness for cross-ex .....

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chief and also to form an opinion that having regard to the facts and circumstances of the case, the statements of the witness are admissible in evidence. Thereafter, the witness is offered to be cross examined. In the absence of examination in chief, allowing the cross examination, is a futile exercise. We further find that the appellant have challenged the impugned order on the ground that the evidence in the form of statements gathered have no link of the appellant to the activities took at .....

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le Punjab & Haryana High Court in Ambika International (supra). Paras 15 to 34 thereof are reproduced as under: 15. A plain reading of sub-section (1) of Section 9D of the Act makes it clear that clauses (a) and (b) of the said sub-section set out the circumstances in which a statement, made and signed by a person before the Central Excise Officer of a gazetted rank, during the course of inquiry or proceeding under the Act, shall be relevant,for the purpose of proving the truth of the facts .....

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to be scrupulously followed, as much in adjudication proceedings as in criminal proceedings relating to prosecution. 17. As already noticed herein above, sub-section (1) of Section 9D sets out the circumstances in which a statement, made and signed before a gazetted Central Excise Officer, shall be relevant for the purpose of proving the truth of the facts contained therein. If these circumstances are absent, the statement, which has been made during inquiry/investigation, before a gazetted Cent .....

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until the case falls within the parameters of Section 9D(1). 18. The consequence would be that, in the absence of the circumstances specified in Section 9D(1), if the adjudicating authority relies on the statement, recorded during investigation in Central Excise, as evidence of the truth of the facts contained in the said statement, it has to be held that the adjudicating authority has relied on irrelevant material. Such reliance would, therefore, be vitiated in law and on facts. 19. Once the am .....

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the way by the adverse party, and v) when the presence of the person who made the statement cannot be obtained without unreasonable delay or expense. 21. Once discretion, to be judicially exercised is, thus conferred, by Section 9D, on the adjudicating authority, it is self-evident inference that the decision flowing from the exercise of such discretion, i.e. the order which would be passed, by the adjudicating authority under Section 9D, if he chooses to invoke clause (a) of sub-section (1) th .....

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as well. Therefore, it is clear that the adjudicating authority cannot invoke Section 9D(1)(a) of the Act without passing a reasoned and speaking order in that regard, which is amenable to challenge by the assessee, if aggrieved thereby. 22. If none of the circumstances contemplated by clause (a) of Section 9D (1) exists, clause (b) of Section 9D (1) comes into operation. The said clause prescribes a specific procedure to be followed before the statement can be admitted in evidence. Under this p .....

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re, statutorily prescribed by plenary parliamentary legislation for admitting, into evidence, a statement recorded before the gazetted Central Excise officer, which does not suffer from the handicaps contemplated by clause (a) of Section 9D(1) of the Act. The use of the word shall in Section 9D (1), makes it clear that, the provisions contemplated in the sub-Section are mandatory. Indeed, as they pertain to conferment of admissibility to oral evidence they would, even otherwise, have to be recor .....

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g such a statement in evidence, clause (b) of Section 9D(1) mandates that the evidence of the witness has to be recorded before the adjudicating authority, as, in such an atmosphere, there would be no occasion for any trepidation on the part of the witness concerned. 25. Clearly, therefore, the stage of relevance, in adjudication proceedings, of the statement, recorded before a gazetted Central Excise officer during inquiry or investigation, would arise only after the statement is admitted in ev .....

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clause (a) of Section 9D(1). In all other cases, if he wants to rely on the said statement as relevant, for proving the truth of the contents thereof, he has to first admit the statement in evidence in accordance with clause (b) of Section 9D(1). For this, he has to summon the person who had made the statement, examine him as witness before him in the adjudicating proceeding, and arrive at an opinion that, having regard to the circumstances of the case, the statement should be admitted in the i .....

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to be recorded in writing, that the statement deserves to be admitted in evidence, that the question of offering the witness to the assessee, for cross-examination, can arise. 28. Clearly, if this procedure, which is statutorily prescribed by plenary Parliamentary legislation, is not followed, it has to be regarded, that the Revenue has given up the said witnesses, so that the reliance by the CCE, on the said statements, has to be regarded as misguided, and the said statements have to be eschew .....

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ciples of evidence, stands affirmed in the judgement of the Supreme Court in C.C. V Bussa Overseas Properties Ltd, 2007(216) ELT 659 (SC), which upheld the decision of the Tribunal in Bussa Overseas Properties Ltd v C.C., 2001 (137) ELT 637 (T). 31. It is clear, from a reading of the Orders-in-original dated 19.05.2016 and 01.06.2016 supra, that Respondents No.2 has, in the said Orders-in-Original, placed extensive reliance on the statements, recorded during investigation under Section 14 of the .....

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he mandatory procedure prescribed by Section 9D of the Act, it has to be held that said Orders-in-Original stand vitiated thereby. 32. The said orders-in-Original, dated 19/05/2016 and 01/06/2016, passed by Respondent No.2 are, therefore, clearly liable to be set aside. 33. Insofar as the writ petitions filed by M/s Ambika International CWP 12615 of 2016 and M/s Jay Ambey Aromatics CWP 12617 of 2016 are concerned, they are allowed by setting aside the Orders-in-Original, dated 19/05/2016 and 01/ .....

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Act and referred to in the Show Cause Notices issued to Ambika and Jay Ambey, it would be incumbent on the Revenue to apply to Respondent No 2 to summon the makers of the said statements, so that the Revenue would examine them in chief before the adjudicating authority, i.e. before Respondent No 2. (ii) A copy of the said record of examination-in-chief, by the Revenue, of the makers of any of the statements on which the Revenue chooses to rely, would have to be made available to the assessee, i. .....

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t in the Show Cause Notice. (iv) Once examination-in-chief, of the makers of the statements, on whom the Revenue seeks to rely in adjudication proceedings, takes place, and a copy thereof is made available to the assessee, it would be open to the assessee to seek permission to cross-examine the persons who have made the said statements, should it choose to do so. In case any such request is made by the assessee, it would be incumbent on the adjudicating authority, i.e. on Respondent No2 to allow .....

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Vollector, 2000 (122) ELT 641 (SC). 34. In the case of M/s Fine Aromatics CWP 12616 of 2016 and M/s Shiva Mint Industries CWP 12618 of 2016, identical to those which had been issued to Ambika and Shiva Mint and which stand adjudicated by Respondent No.2 vide Orders-in-Original dated 19.05.2016 and 01.06.2016 supra, have been issued, and are presently pending adjudication before Respondent No.2. No further orders would be required to be passed, in the said writ petitions, apart from directing th .....

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h a direction to adjudicate the Show Cause Notice strictly by complying with the mandate of Section 9D of the Act, in accordance with the directions contained in para 33 of the judgment of the High Court of Punjab & Haryana in Ambika International (supra) which are, for ready reference, reiterated as under: (i) In the event that the Revenue intends to rely on any of the statements, recorded under Section 14 of the Act and referred to in the Show Cause Notices issued to Ambika and Jay Ambey, .....

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stigation, under Section 14 of the Act, whose makers are not examined in chief before the adjudicating authority, i.e. before Respondent No 2, would have to be eschewed from evidence, and it would not be permissible for Respondent No 2 to rely on the said evidence while adjudicating the matter. Neither, needless to say, would be open to the Revenue to rely on the said statements to support the case sought to be made out in the Show Cause Notice. (iv) Once examination-in-chief, of the makers of t .....

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