Patna High Court explains the law on accountability of public officials for failure to follow directions

Law on Accountability of Public Officials- what is remedy if they fail to follow Directions

The Patna High Court in the case of M/s Overseas Enterprises having their office at 2263, 1st Floor, Room No. 11, Gali Raghunandan, Naya Bazar, Delhi 110063, vs. Union of India represented through the Chief Commissioner of Customs (Preventive), The Commissioner of Customs (Preventive),The Additional Commissioner of Customs (Adjudication) , The Assistant Commissioner of Customs (Preventive), The Superintendent of Customs (Preventive), and The Superintendent of Customs (Adjudication), being Civil Writ Jurisdiction Case No.13382 of 2014, has explained the law on accountability of public officials for failure to follow directions.

Lawyers engaged:

Mr. Sudhir Kumar, Adv. appeared on behalf of the petitioners and Mrs. Nivedita Nirvikar, Adv. Along with Mrs. Archana Meenakshi, Adv. appeared on behalf of the Customs Department.

Law on Accountability
Law on Accountability

Date of judgment:

The judgment was passed on 30.11.2015 by Hon’ble Justice Mr. Mihir Kumar Jha.

Facts and circumstances of the case deciding on Law on Accountability of Public Servants:

The case was filed on 05.08.2014. The petitioners by way of the writ petition sought for a writ of mandamus and/or any other writ to direct the Respondents to release the goods (split betel nuts) owned by the petitioners seized by the department which the petitioners imported from Bangladesh through Land Customs Station, Petrapole by a Bill of Entry No. dated 28.01.2013 weighing about 15.470 Metric Tons which have been illegally detained by the Respondents.

The goods were retained in spite of the fact that the proceedings initiated against the petitioners for the said goods due to its alleged illegal import was dropped by the authority and there was a direction for release of the seized goods by an order dated 28.03.2013.

It was claimed that upon clearance of payment of the amount of import duty, the goods were examined and after clearance of the goods, they were loaded in registered vehicles of West Bengal and were brought to Bangaon by these trucks from where the goods were transferred to the vehicles provided by the Transporter M/s SRC India Movers to their business premises located at New Delhi.

The petitioners also asserted that the goods imported by them were also tested and nothing suspicious was found in the report of the Export Inspection Agency of Kolkata.
The petitioners stated that while transporting the betel nuts from Bangaon to New Delhi, one of the Trucks was intercepted and seized by the officers of the Customs on 16.02.2013 in exercise of power under Section 110 of the Customs Act for alleged violation of Sections 45, 46 and 47 of the Act on the allegation that the betel nuts were illegally imported to India from Bangladesh.

Such seized articles were brought to Patna where its weight found to be 15.470 MT. The Custom officials also valued the same at Rs. 14, 69,650/- and the value of the truck at Rs 12, 00,000/-.

Upon knowing about such seizure, the petitioners claimed to have appeared before the Additional Commissioner, Patna on 06.03.2013 and filed application for release of the goods.

The authorities after recording of the statement of the petitioners as per Section 108 of the Act on 06.03.2013 and 27.03.2013 and on verification of the papers relating to the release of the seized goods, under Section 110 of the Act, allowed the same by an order dated 28.03.2013.

Custom Officers did not release goods on Mala fide Intentions

The petitioners stated that though they had made efforts for getting release of the goods as per the aforesaid order of release dated 28.03.2013, but the same was not released by the Custom Department who under mala fide intention had sent the sample of goods for testing to Central Food Laboratory, Kolkata which on 03.04.2014 had submitted a report that the goods were adulterated as per the Food Safety & Standards Act, 2006.

The petitioners were subjected to confiscation proceedings and were called upon to file their show cause as to why gods and the truck should not be confiscated under the Act and penalty be not imposed upon them.

The petitioners thereafter filed their show cause on 8.5.2013 in reply to the notice dated 08.04.2013.Therin they had categorically denied the allegation made in the said notice and explained that the goods were legally imported with the valid documents after due custom clearance.

It was further stated by the petitioners that during pendency of the confiscation proceedings before the Additional Commissioner, Patna, they had again sent a notice to the Additional Commissioner, Patna from compliance of the order of release, but no action was taken by the Custom Department in response to such notice.

Commissioner of Customs Office was Informed of Non Compliance by its officers

The petitioners also claimed that they had also informed the Commissioner of Customs, Patna regarding non-compliance of the order of release but their seized goods were not released.

The confiscation proceedings were decided in favour of the petitioners by the final order dated 29.11.2013 dropping the proceedings.

The hearing of the case was taken up on 02.12.2014. The learned counsel for the petitioners submitted that the Court had taken a serious view that the seized articles of the petitioners were to be released on 09.08.2014, then why such goods were not released for a period of more than sixteen months despite an order of provisional release.

Case: Decided in favor of Assessee

Learned counsel for the petitioners contended that the quality of the seized betel nuts had deteriorated thus causing huge financial loss to the petitioners.

The learned counsel appearing on behalf of the Custom Department stated that on account of dismissal of appeal filed by the department the Bank guarantee filed by the petitioners were sought to be returned back to them.

Learned counsel for the petitioners made a strong protest to the aforementioned submissions.

The judgment:

Taking the submissions into consideration, the Hon’ble Patna High Court, on 02.12.2014, had directed the Custom Department to disclose the reasons for such delay in the release of the seized goods of the petitioners.
With the aforementioned directions, the writ application was allowed with a cost of Rs. 25,000/- for compelling the petitioners to file the petition to be paid by the Respondents within a period of three months.

Also Read- Is Prosecution the Best Deterrence for Tax Evasion?

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