New Delhi, February 25, 2013(Agencies):
A consensus has been reached to restore the power of arrest in specific offences under the Customs and Central Excise Act.
According to sources, the proposal was cleared at a meeting by finance minister P Chidambaram recently and the amendments are expected to be announced during the ongoing Budget Session.
According to an official, the Central Board of Excise and Customs(CBEC) wants amendments in order to make specific offences such as smuggling of prohibited goods, wrong declaration and duty evasion over a particular threshold cognisable and non-bailable offences.
The move has reportedly been prompted by requests made by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and Directorate of Central Excise Intelligence, which investigate violations under the Customs Act and the Central Excise Act.
Besides these two agencies, officials have been complaining to the CBEC that offenders do not cooperate with the investigation due to lack of legal deterrence. This, the CBEC claims, is a major hurdle in timely completion of investigation and recovery of revenue.
A Supreme Court Bench, then headed by present Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir, had in September 2011 made all offences under the Customs Act bailable. In Budget 2012, the government through anamendment restored the status quo in offences inviting more than three years in jail, making them non-bailable.
The Opposition had criticised the move, with Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley comparing it to an anti-terror law. The government had subsequently dropped the amendments.
“You don’t need a hammer to kill a fly… a provision of this kind which you said should not even apply to terrorists, you are saying now in custom offences they will apply,” Jaitley had said in the Rajya Sabha.
The fresh proposal is similar to the earlier proposed amendments in the Finance Bill, except this time the offences will be limited to those the CBEC believes pose threat to national security and economic stability of the country.
So, if a person is arrested for a serious Customs offence under the proposed law, he will not be eligible for bail until a public prosecutor is allowed to present his case, which could mean a longer wait.
In the new proposal, the board has narrowed down the focus to prohibited items such as banned pesticides and evasion of high magnitude.The threshold in case of duty evasion is to be decided by the top echelons of the Finance Ministry.The CBEC is also planning to move a complaint in the Supreme Court, armed with a Law Ministry opinion and forensic evidence, to have a re-look at the case, said a member.
It has been found that the affidavit of the applicants in the September 2011 Supreme Court judgment that struck down the power to arrest was forged.