The Calcutta High Court on Wednesday quashed summons to Rujira Naroola, wife of Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee, and her sister by the Customs authorities on the ground of procedural lapses.
Naroola and her companion, Menka Gambhir had moved the high court seeking to cancel or rescind the summons and for an order prohibiting the Customs authorities for initiating enquiry under provisions of the Customs Act against them in connection with a complaint filed by Customs officials at NSCBI Airport police station on March 22 last year
The Single Judge noted that the Commissioner of Customs on 26th March, 2019 prima facie formed his opinion to enquire and seek presence of the petitioners in connection to an incident that occurred on the night of 15/16th March, 2019 and sought aid in enquiry directing Joint/Additional Commissioner of Customs, AIU, NSCBI, Airport, Kolkata to issue summons to the petitioners, and the petitioners were directed to appear before Additional Commissioner of Customs (Airport Administration) on 8th April, 2019 for giving evidence and/or produces documents or things in relation to the incident which occurred on 15th /16th March, 2019.
The Single Bench continued to reflect that Section 108 of the Customs Act clearly mandates that proceedings under section 108 are quasi judicial in nature. The person issuing summons has to satisfy qualitative ingredients as prescribed in Section 108 of the Customs Act. In this case, the Additional Commissioner, AIU NSCBI Airport, Kolkata who has issued the summons dated 26th March, 2019 to the petitioners is not the inquiry officer and he has not formed any opinion regarding attendance of the petitioners and he has only directed the petitioners to appear before another Additional Commissioner (Airport Administration) Customs, who is also not the inquiry officer. But when a statute provides that the power under Section 108 of the Customs Act must be exercised in a certain manner, then such power has to be wielded in the same manner and none other. "For the above reasons the summons dated 26th March 2019 issued to the petitioners are quashed and set aside", it held.
The Single Bench observed that two contested and irreconcilable versions of an event came to be placed before the Court which occurred on the night of 15th / 16th March, 2019 and has to be inquired into by a competent authority.
The two contested and irreconcilable versions are as follows:
a) Two lady passengers, the petitioners herein, while passing through the green channel having arrived at NSCBI Airport, Kolkata, refused to show their passports and refused to subject themselves to the procedures as laid down in customs Act.
b) The lady passengers/ writ petitioners exited the green channel without any hindrance.
Besides, the Court acknowledged the separate issue that some unknown police officers entered the international arrival hall of NSCBI Airport, Kolkata and assisted the writ petitioners to exit the gate of customs and such incident was informed to the jurisdictional police station by the Assistant Commissioner of Customs by filing a complaint on 22nd March, 2019. The said complaint was not only against the writ petitioners but also against some unknown police officers who assisted the writ petitioners, and that the complaint was filed on 22nd March, 2019 is an undisputed fact.
"Learned Additional Advocate General has categorically submitted before this court that the written information lodged by the Customs to the jurisdictional police authorities was entered into a General Diary and numbered as NSCBI Airport PS G.D.E No 800 dated 22/3/2019 (P.33). On March 23, 2019, the jurisdictional police authorities made a prayer before the Ld. Magistrate for investigating into offences. The Ld. Magistrate passed an order permitting the police authorities to investigate into the offence and the investigation is in progress", records the judgment.
The bench further appreciated that the Statements of several witnesses u/s. 161 of Cr. P.C have been recorded and CCTV footage has been obtained from the airport authorities. The customs authorities had filed the complaint on 22nd March, 2019 and after the complaint was filed, the police have acted upon the same by taking magisterial approval under section 155 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. "Thus, the customs lost its jurisdiction to inquire any further in respect of the complaint and is restrained from making parallel inquiry", declared the Court.
But it proceeded to opine that as regards the first incidence, where two contested and irreconcilable version of an event that occurred on the night of 15th /16th March, 2019 i.e. two lady passengers, the writ petitioners herein, while passing through the green channel having arrived at the Airport refused to show their passports and refused to subject themselves to the procedures as laid down in customs Act inside the "customs airport" has lead to an inquiry by the customs authorities.
"The customs authorities are free to inquire into the two contested and irreconcilable version of an event as presented before me for any violation of the customs Act by the writ petitioners effecting loss of government revenue that occurred on the night of 15th / 16th March, 2019, but to the extent which occurred inside the "Customs Airport" as defined in section 2 of the Customs Act", ruled the Judge.
Naroola, a citizen of Thailand, had arrived at the city airport in the early hours of March 16 from Bangkok and was allegedly selected randomly for checking by the Customs officials at the immigration counter.
She filed a complaint with the NSCBI Airport police station on the same day alleging that she had been deliberately harassed and misbehaved with by the officials.
The Customs authorities also filed a complaint with the same police station stating that they were prevented from examination of the baggage of Naroola and her companion Menka Gambhir.
The Customs authorities alleged that they were voluntarily and intentionally obstructed by the two passengers, local police personnel and other unknown persons from exercising their power as conferred under the Customs Act.
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