Kerala Flood Relief : HC Issues Directions To Ease Customs Clearance For Imported Goods [Read Order]
Acting on two public interest litigations, the High Court of Kerala has issued directions to ease the procedure for availing customs duty exemption for goods imported for flood relief.
The petitioners highlighted practical difficulties to comply with the conditions prescribed in the notification issued by the Central Government on August 21 for availing exemption from the duty leviable on imported relief materials under the Customs Tariff Act. The exemption is available only if the importer certifies that the goods are meant for flood relief. Further, the goods are to be sent to government approved relief agencies to avail the exemption. Also, the importer has to produce before the Deputy/Assistant Commissioner of Customs within six months a certificate from the District Magisrtate to the effect that the goods were used for relief operations.
The petitioners, who were represented by Advocates Santhosh Mathew and Mohammed Shah, voiced the apprehension that the authorities would insist handing over of the imported goods to them for granting certificate, defeating the wishes of the foreign donors who intended distribution of goods at particular locations. They also pointed out that no effective mechanism had been put in place by the state government for granting approval certificates to relief agencies. Only the collectors of Thiruvananthapuram, Ernakulam and Kozhikode districts were authorised to certify approved agencies, and it was impossible for a relief agency located in any other district to obtain approval - the petitioners contended.
The Advocate General submitted that the necessary instructions were issued to the collectors to assist in distribution of imported materials. It was also submitted that the instructions required the importer to hand over the materials to the state machinery for further distribution.
Taking note of the urgency of the matter, the Division Bench of Chief Justice Hrishikesh Roy and Justice A K Jayasankaran Nambiar, issued the following directions:-
- "The Central and State authorities shall notify the authority/authorities concerned, who shall be authorised to grant approval certificates in favour of the importers of relief materials.
- The authority/authorities notified by the Central/State Government shall, on being approached by an importer with a request for certification as an approved relief agency for the purposes of notification dated 21.08.2018, promptly consider the said application and accord approval, on the importer concerned satisfying the conditions stipulated for the grant of approval.
- In the case of those applications that are received by the State Government, taking note of the submission of the learned Advocate General, it is made clear that on the importer concerned undertaking to entrust the imported relief material to the State Government, immediately after its clearance through the customs station, and indicating its preferred choice of destination of the imported goods, within the State of Kerala, the State Government shall immediately issue the necessary certificate approving the importer concerned, as an approved relief agency for the consignment in question, so as to enable the latter to obtain the benefit of the customs notification aforementioned in respect of the said consignment. In the distribution steps that are subsequently undertaken in respect of the said relief materials, the State Government shall permit the participation of the relief agency concerned, and also give due weightage to its choice of destination of the imported goods.
- The certificate of approval granted by the State Government in terms of clause(3) above, together with an undertaking furnished by the importer to the state government, shall be treated as sufficient compliance by the importer, of conditions (ii) and (iii) of the notification, for the purposes of finalising the customs duty assessment in relation to the imported goods. Taking note of the urgency of the situation, we make it clear that the certificates/approvals/clearances by the State and Central Authorities shall not be unduly delayed and shall, at any rate, be issued within three days from the date of presentation of the relevant documents by the importer concerned."
The Court also indicated that it would be prudent for the State/Central Governments to simultaneously give adequate publicity to the approvals granted to the various relief agencies for the purposes of the customs notification, as also to the details of the relief material that are found necessary in various districts in the State.Read Order