SC : Customs : 0fficial discretion must be used fairly

When a law grants power to an officer to take certain action that he “deems it necessary” or has reason to believe, it does not mean his subjective satisfaction. Such power should not be exercised arbitrarily and must be used “in accordance with the restraints imposed by law.” Supreme Court stated so while allowing the appeal of Tata Chemicals against the order of CESTAT. The company, engaged in the manufacture of soda ash and coke, imported coking coal produced by an Australian firm. Coking coal with ash content less than 12 per cent was exempt from basic customs duty. The consignment was tested by an independent foreign inspection agency which certified that the moisture content was less than 10 per cent. When it arrived at Okha, customs authorities took samples and tested them at the Central Fuel Research Institute. According to its report, the consignment contained ash content more than 12 per cent. Therefore, the authorities denied exemption from duty. The appellate tribunal confirmed the stand of the customs inspectors. On appeal, Supreme Court stated that the samples were drawn contrary to law, as the company’s representative was not present when they were taken. “If the law requires that something must be done in a particular manner, it must be done in that manner,” the judgment emphasized, and added that if it was not done so, the decision has no existence in the eye of the law at all.

Business Standard, 15-6-2015

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