Bombay HC raps customs authorities for acting contrary to court orders

The Bombay high court on Wednesday lambasted the Commissioner of Customs (Appeals), Mumbai Zone-1, for acting contrary to an earlier court order to forthwith release a large consignment of yellow peas imported from China.

“Prima facie the above directions of respondent No.2 (the customs commissioner) are totally in contravention to the order of this court,” said the bench comprising justices Ujjal Bhuyan and Abhay Abuja, while staying the order.

Acting on separate petitions filed by two importers, Harihar Collection and Raj Grow Impex LLP, the bench had on October 15, 2020 held that withholding of their imported consignments by customs was not justified and had ordered the customs authorities to forthwith release the goods.

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Two months later, Raj Grow Impex LLP again moved the high court challenging December 24, 2020 order passed by the customs commissioner. Its counsel, Dr Sujay Kantawala, pointed out that the on December 24, 2020, the customs commissioner had ordered absolute confiscation of part of the consignment, and the order was completely contrary to the earlier high court order.

The high court accepted Dr Kantawala’s contention and observed that the view taken by respondent No.2 (customs commissioner) that the decision of the high court to the order releasing the goods was “prima facie not correct.”

“When the high court had directed release of the goods forthwith, it is beyond comprehension as to how a lower appellate authority can nullify such direction by ordering absolute confiscation of such goods,” said the bench. “It is not only unacceptable but contemptuous as well.”

The high court has now directed the customs authorities to comply with the earlier orders and sought a compliance report by January 27, 2021.

In a separate proceeding, also initiated by Raj Grow Impex LLP, the bench on Wednesday issued notices to customs commissioner Manoj Kedia, deputy commissioner Ram Nath Purohit and assistant commissioner KK Sharma, asking them to show cause as to why a proceeding for contempt should not be initiated against them. They have been given time till January 21, 2021 to respond to the notice.

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