The Allahabad High Court has directed the Container Corporation of India Ltd. (CONCOR) to expeditiously decide the issue of levying detention charges/ ground rent by the Inland Container Depots (ICDs), for storage of cargo containers beyond the free period of fourteen days, during the lockdown period.
A bench of Justices Sunita Agarwal and Saumitra Dayal Singh on Monday directed the Navratna PSU created under the Indian Ministry of Railways, to pass a speaking order on the subject, within a period of two weeks.
The order is significant as the law on ICDs is not yet settled and even though the CAG Audit Report of 2016-17 confirm that ICDs are "dry ports", the Respondent ICD herein, "Star Track Terminals" located at Dadri, Ghaziabad has allegedly refused to comply with the notifications issued by the Union Ministry of Shipping, directing all the ports to allow free storage time to all port users for the lockdown period, are not applicable to them.
Notably, a similar case was also heard by the Delhi High Court in May, 2020, in a dispute between M/S Polytech Trade Foundation and Container Freight Stations Association.
In the said case, the court was of a prima facie opinion that the said Government notifications are mere "advisories" and are not binding. The court therefore refused to grant any interim injunction in favour of the Petitioner-trade company, stating that,
"no irreparable loss is going to be caused to the petitioner if injunction/restrained order is not granted for the reason that if this court finally comes to a conclusion that these letters were not in the form of advisories/guidelines but were in fact binding directions, the petitioner can recover the ground rent/penal charges paid by them to respondent"
ICDs are responsible for providing the required infrastructure and security to the import/export goods being handled at their respective premises. Usually, they provide 14 days free storage facility, beyond which detention charges/ ground rent are applicable.
In the case at hand, the Respondent ICD, Dadri had raised invoices against the Petitioner company, demanding Rs. 25,65,800/-, relating to storage of goods during the lockdown period.
The Petitioner has contended that the levy of detention charges for the lockdown period is in violation of the orders/ directions issued by the Government of India vide various notifications issued in the months of April and May 2020.
It has been contended that directions issued by the Ministry of Shipping and Ministry of Finance are mandatory in nature and are binding upon respondent ICD inasmuch as they are established by approval of under the inter ministerial committee consisting of Ministries of Commerce, Finance, Railways, Shipping and Civil Aviation
The court has, without commenting on the merits of the case, ordered CONCOR to "take an expeditious decision on the reply submitted by the petitioner - protesting against the demand notice charging ground rent and detention charges on storage of the cargo containers beyond the free period of fourteen days, at the ICD Dadri (by respondent no.6)."
The court further said that the undertaking will "pass a reasoned and speaking order in accordance with law within a period of two weeks from the submission of a copy of this order before the respondent no.5."
It may be noted that the Respondent ICD herein is a joint venture between CONCOR and APM Terminals India Pvt. Ltd.
The Petitioner is represented by Senior Advocate Anoop Trivedi and Advocates Abhinav Gaur and Vibhu Rai.
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