Persons arrested for allegedly smuggling goods which are not notified by the central government need not spend time in custody. The Bombay High Court has ruled that offence for allegedly smuggling goods other than gold, silver, wrist watches, calculator and certain fabrics is bailable offence and the person should be let off on bail immediately.
The Customs Act does not have bail provision. So if a person is arrested under section 135 of the Customs Act for allegedly smuggling even non-notified goods he has to spend time behind bars.
As per the notification of the Central Government gold, silver, wrist watches, calculator and certain fabrics are notified items and its smuggling invites prosecution and imprisonment upto seven years. Smuggling of goods other than these invites a maximum sentence of three years if found guilty.
The ruling came by Justice JH Bhatia recently while hearing anticipatory bail application of a trader Sangit Agrawal, who is apprehending arrest for allegedly smuggling synthetic leather and coated fabrics and evading customs duty to the tune of Rs 8 crore.
Agrawal approached the HC seeking anticipatory bail after a complaint was lodged against him under section 135 of the Customs Act for allegedly evading customs duty. He had been importing synthetic leather and coated fabrics since last five years.
At the time of import he had declared the price of the goods at 2.25 US$ per meter. However, the customs authorities came to the conclusion that the international price for the goods was 3.1 US$ per meter and hence he was required to pay duty at the enhanced rate of the goods, argued his counsel Sujay Kantawala adding that Agrawal was therefore forced to pay the enhanced duty to get his goods back from the authorities.
Public prosecutors Usha Kejariwal and Y. Shinde argued that Agrawal has evaded duty on several occasions in last five years evading duty to the tune of RS 8 crore.
Kantawala argued that for allegedly evading duty invited a maximum of three years of imprisonment. “Following the Criminal Procedure Code, offence inviting maximum of three years punishment is bailable. However, the customs authorities are treating this as non-bailable as the Customs Act does not mention any bail provisions,” said Kantawala.
Justice Bhatia observed that the offence allegedly committed by Agrawal is bailable and hence does not require anticipatory bail. The court has directed the concerned officials to immediately release him on bail, if he is arrested.
The order has larger ramifications as on an average 20 people are arrested in the city by various agencies like the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Central Intelligence Unit, Rummaging and Intelligence Unit, Special Intelligence Unit, Air Intelligence Unit and Marine and Preventive Wing for allegedly evading duty at various entry points in the city from foreign country. “Even persons who return from foreign country with certain goods like computers parts or electronics are also arrested for allegedly evading duty. These items are for personal consumption and still it is treated like commercial smuggling,” added Kantawala.