Decided on July 30,1986



S. Kalyanam, Member (J) - (1.)SINCE the above appeals are connected and arise out of a common order, they are taken up together and disposed of by a common order. The appeals are directed against the order of the Additional Collector of Customs, Madurai dated 4.7.85, confiscating Indian currency of Rs. 1 lakh under Section 121 of the Customs Act, 1962 (hereinafter referred to as the 'Act') and rejecting the appellant's claim thereto under law.
(2.)The Central Excise Officers attached to the Preventive Unit, Madurai, on the basis of prior information, visited the premises of the appellants at Door No. 4-A, Mettukammala 4th Lane, South Avanimoola Street, Madurai where the appellants in partnership are having a silver refinery. The appellant, Panduranga Bagwan Patel, was present at the time when the authorities found six gold bars in rectangular shape and another gold triangular bit, totally weighing 2918.250 gms. Apart from it, on search the authorities also found a gunny bag in the midst of leco coal bags which on examination was found to contain Indian currency to the tune of about Rs. 1 lakh. Since the appellants were neither licensed gold dealers nor certified goldsmiths, the gold and the currency were seized by the authorities as per law under mahazar attested by witnesses. Both the appellants gave statements before the authorities immediately on seizure on 28.6.83 completely disowning the gold and the currency under seizure. It is in these circumstances after further investigation in respect of the proceedings instituted against the Appellants, the impugned order came to be passed as against which the present appeals arise.
Shri Narayanan, the learned Counsel for the appellants submitted that the seizure of Rs. 1 lakh currency concerned in the appeal belonged to the appellants herein and inasmuch as the same was recovered from the appellants'' business premises, the appellants would be entitled to claim the same, particularly when there is no evidence on record to show that the same represented the sale proceeds of contraband goods. It was further urged that notwithstanding the fact that the appellants immediately on seizure have given statements before the authorities on 28.6.83 completely disowning and disclaiming the currency under seizure, the appellants' claim for the same made in the reply to the show cause notice dated 27.1.84 should have been accepted and the currency returned to the appellants, particularly in the absence of evidence that the currency represented the sale proceeds of contraband goods. The learned Counsel also urged that since the appellants did not have a copy of their statements, they could not immediately make a claim to the currency under seizure and so the belated claim of the appellants to the currency under seizure cannot be construed to be a circumstance against the appellants. The learned Counsel also contended that inasmuch as the authorities had no reason to believe that the currency in question represented the sale proceeds of contraband goods, the seizure of the same is against law and consequently the confiscation of the same under the impugned order is bad in law. It was also contended that the statements attributed to the appellants and dated 28.6.83 were not voluntary and this fact had been made abundantly clear by the appellants in their petition to the Collector of Customs or, 9.7.1983 and also before the Judicial Magistrate at the time when the appellants were produced for remand. Finally, the learned Counsel contended that in any event the absolute confiscation of the currency is not warranted under law inasmuch as the currency under seizure would come within the mischief of the term "any other goods" covered by the second part of Section 125 of the Act entitling the Appellants to redemption of the same.

(3.)SHRI Krishnan, the learned Departmental Representative submitted that the appellants have categorically disowned any connection with the currency under seizure by their statements before the authorities immediately on seizure on 28.6.83. The appellants made a claim for the first time only in reply to the show cause notice on 27.1.84 and this inordinate delay, coupled with the earlier admissions of the appellants, would disentitle the appellants to the currency in question. The learned D.R. further contended that no explanation at all has been given by the appellants for making a claim of the currency in question after such an inordinate delay and even the plea that the appellants were not able to make a claim in the absence of the copy of the statements recorded from them is also not legally tenable inasmuch as the appellants were supplied with a copy of the statements on 6.7.83 and the appellants sent up a petition to the authorities on 9.7.83 wherein also admittedly no claim for the currency was made at all. The learned D.R. further argued that the seizure was only on a reasonable belief particularly because it was on the basis of proper information, as made clear under the impugned order. The learned D.R. also drew our attention to the various circumstances such as, concealment of the huge quantity of currency under seizure in a gunny bag in the midst of leco coal bags, recovery of substantial quantity of gold from the appellants' premises, which is a silver refinery not entitled to keep any gold, statement of one Baskaran to the effect that the gold under seizure was illicit gold, to contend that there were enough circumstances to induce a reasonable belief in the minds of the authorities to effect the seizure of the gold and currency in question. The learned D.R. also urged taht the statements recorded from the appellants are voluntary and true and merits acceptance and the retraction has to be rejected.

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