New Delhi– The Supreme Court has set aside show-cause notices issued by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) in a matter against Canon India.

“We, therefore, hold that the entire proceeding in the present case initiated by the Additional Director General of the DRI by issuing show-cause notices in all the matters before us are invalid without any authority of law and liable to be set-aside and the ensuing demands are also set aside,” the SC order by a bench of Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde, A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian said in a case Canon India as the appellant versus Commissioner of Customs.

The batch of statutory appeals arises from a common final order of the Central Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT) dated 19th December 2017 (impugned order).

Through the impugned order an exemption of basic customs duty accorded to the Digital Still Image Video 1 Cameras (DSIC) imported by the Nikon India Pvt. Ltd, Canon India Pvt. Ltd., Sony India Pvt. Ltd. and Samsung India Electronics Pvt. Ltd (hereinafter referred to as ‘appellants’ or ‘importers’), in terms of exemption Notification No. 20/2005 dated 01.03.2005 (as amended by Notification No. 15/2012 dated 17.03.2012) came to be denied and the consequential confiscation of goods, demand of interest and imposition of penalty as provided for under various sections of the Customs Act, 1962, was upheld by the CESTAT.

“Since the appeals involve common questions, these are being decided together and for sake of convenience we shall be referring to the events which took place in the case of Nikon”, the order said.

It said the main issue is whether after clearance of the cameras on the basis that they were exempted from levy of basic Customs duty under Notification No.15/2012, the proceedings initiated by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence for recovery of duty not paid under Section 28(4) of the Customs Act, 1962 are valid in law.

The consignment of cameras arrived at Delhi on 15.3.2012. The importer submitted a Bill of Entry to the Customs Authorities on 20.3.2012. Along with the Bill of Entry, the importer submitted a covering letter and literature containing specifications of the cameras. After verification of the Bill of Entry by the Inspector and the Superintendent, the importer requested the Deputy Commissioner of Customs for a first check on 21.3.2012. The Customs Authorities checked the goods on 24.3.2012. They compared the goods with the description given in the literature and took a decision to clear the goods on 24.3.2012, as being exempt from duty in terms of the Notification No.15/2012 which was issued on 17.3.2012.

On 19.8.2014, a show cause notice was issued under Section 28 (4) of the Customs Act, 19621 alleging that the Customs Authorities had been induced to clear the cameras by wilful mis-statement and suppression of facts about the cameras. In particular; that the cameras were capable of recording more than a single video sequence of less than 30 minutes.

In other words, after one sequence of less than 30 minutes was recorded, the camera had sufficient memory (extendable) to record more such sequences.

“It is significant to note that while the decision to clear the goods for import because they were exempted from customs duties under Notification No.15/2012, was taken by Deputy Commissioner, Appraisal Group, Delhi Air Cargo, the show cause notice was issued by the Additional Director General, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence”, the judgement said.

The question that arises is whether the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence had authority in law to issue a show cause notice under Section 28(4) of the Act for recovery of duties allegedly not levied or paid when the goods have been cleared for import by a Deputy Commissioner of Customs who decided that the goods are exempted.

“It is necessary that the answer must flow from the power conferred by the statute i.e. under Section 28(4) of the Act. This Section empowers the recovery of duty not paid, part paid or erroneously refunded by reason of collusion or any wilful mis-statement or suppression of facts and confers the power of recovery on “the proper officer”. The obvious intention is to confer the power to recover such duties not on any proper officer but only on “the proper officer”,” the judgement said.

“Where the statute confers the same power to perform an act on different officers, as in this case, the two officers, especially when they belong to different departments, cannot exercise their powers in the same case. Where one officer has exercised his powers of assessment, the power to order re-assessment must also be exercised by the same officer or his successor and not by another officer of another department though he is designated to be an officer of the same rank. In our view, this would result into an anarchical and unruly operation of a statute which is not contemplated by any canon of construction of statute”, it added.

“It is well known that when a statute directs that the things be done in a certain way, it must be done in that way alone. As in this case, when the statute directs that “the proper officer” can determine duty not levied/not paid, it does not mean any proper officer but that proper officer alone. We find it completely impermissible to allow an officer, who has not passed the original order of assessment, to re-open the assessment on the grounds that the duty was not paid/not levied, by the original officer who had decided to clear the goods and who was competent and authorised to make the assessment”, it added.

“It is obvious that the re-assessment and recovery of duties i.e. contemplated by Section 28(4) is by the same authority and not by any superior authority such as Appellate or Revisional Authority. It is, therefore, clear to us that the Additional Director General of DRI was not “the” proper officer to exercise the power under Section 28(4) and the initiation of the recovery proceedings in the present case is without any jurisdiction and liable to be set aside”, the judgement said.

If it was intended that officers of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence who are officers of Central Government should be entrusted with functions of the Customs officers, it was imperative that the Central Government should have done so in exercise of its power under Section 6 of the Act.

The reason why such a power is conferred on the Central Government is obvious and that is because the Central Government is the authority which appoints both the officers of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence which is set up under the Notification dated 04.12.1957 issued by the Ministry of Finance and Customs officers who, till 11.5.2002, were appointed by the Central Government. The notification which purports to entrust functions as proper officer under the Customs Act has been issued by the Central Board of Excise and Customs in exercise of non-existing power under Section 2 (34) of the Customs Act.

“The notification is obviously invalid having been issued by an authority which had no power to do so in purported exercise of powers under a section which does not confer any such power,” it said.

“We, therefore, hold that the entire proceeding in the present case initiated by the Additional Director General of the DRI by issuing show cause notices in all the matters before us are invalid without any authority of law and liable to be set-aside and the ensuing demands are also set aside”, it said. (IANS)