SITA RAM GURDAS MAL Vs. COLLECTOR OF CENTRAL EXCISE NEW DELHI
HIGH COURT OF PUNJAB AND HARYANA
SITA RAM GURDAS MAL
COLLECTOR OF CENTRAL EXCISE, NEW DELHI
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(1.) THE firm Messrs. Sita Ram Gurdas Mal carries on the business of imports and exports in Amritsar. It imported 25 cases of acacia gum on 14-2-1951 and another 25 cases on 20-2-1951. Under the Customs Tariff Rules, 1951, this commodity is liable to customs duty at Rs. 45/- per cwt. if it is "unsifted and uncleaned", but if it is found to be "sifted and cleaned" then ad valorem duty is payable. The customs authorities classified the goods as "sifted and cleaned" and charged Rs. 8,245/9/and rs. 8. 492/10/- as import duty on both the items. The petitioner paid the duty under protest and then claimed refund of Rs. 2,332/14/3 and Rs. 2,968/7/- on the ground that the goods imported were in fact "unsifted and uncleaned". This claim was rejected by the Assistant Collector (Customs) on 26th December, 1951. The firm appealed under Section 188, Sea Customs Act, to the Collector, Central excise, New Delhi, and the appeals were dismissed on 4th August 1952. The firm then filed petitions for revision under Section 191 of the Act to the Central government. The Central Government made minor deductions in the duty chargeable. The petitioning-firm is dissatisfied with these orders and has filed these petitions (Civil Writs Nos. 11 and 17 of 1955) under Article 226 of the constitution to get the refund as claimed by it. As the questions involved in these two petitions are common, it will be convenient to decide both of them by this judgment.
(2.) IT is urged before me on behalf of the petitioner that inasmuch as the impugned orders involve petitioner's rights of property, he was entitled to get an opportunity to be heard before an adverse order was passed against him in the proceedings which were of quasi judicial nature and that the authorities were bound to observe principles of natural justice in deciding the cases even though no procedure of a hearing is provided in the Sea Customs Act. The respondents' case on the other hand is that the adjudication under Section 182 of the Act is in the nature of proceedings in rem, that the customs authorities are not judicial tribunals and that the order is a purely administrative order. Further it is pleaded that in the present cases the Assistant Collector (Customs) took samples from the two consignments and that on subsequent verification it was found that the imported goods were "cleaned and sifted". While it is admitted that this subsequent verification was done in the absence of the petitioner from the market, it is pleaded that the petitioner's presence at that time would have defeated the purpose of the verification.
(3.) ON these pleadings the following two questions require determination in these petitions : 1. whether the customs authorities while acting under Sections 182, 188 and 191 of the Sea Customs Act are purely administrative bodies and their decision is not quasi judicial; and 2. whether in the present cases the proceedings taken to determine the duty leviable were in accordance with the doctrine of natural justice.;
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