New Delhi: The customs department wants a change in the Customs Act so that offences relating to national security remain non-bailable.
Several people arrested for serious offences such as smuggling fake currency notes and importing dangerous goods have secured bail after the Supreme Court ruled on 30 September that all offences under the Customs Act of 1962 and excise act of 1944 are non-cognizable and bailable, said two officials aware of the development.
The apex court also ruled that customs officials cannot make arrests without a warrant.
“We are in consultation with the law ministry to file a review petition in the Supreme Court. If that does not work out, we may consider an amendment to the Customs Act if required,” said an official of the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC), requesting anonymity. “The Customs Act has been in existence for many years and requires some amendments.”
“CBEC is not hopeful of gaining much from a review petition,” said a second official, who also did not want to be identified. “It is also time consuming. The board wants to introduce amendment by which the powers of the customs can be protected.”
Legal view: The Supreme Court in a recent judgement said all offences under the Customs Act and excise act are non-cognizable and bailable. Mint
Offences handled by customs officials are not just economic in nature but also relate to national security, such as smuggling of arms, ammunition and fake currency, and import of hazardous material, the officials said.
The CBEC wants the right to make arrests for investigation, interrogation and finding out the manner and extent of evasion for certain offences under the Customs Act, excise act or Foreign Exchange Regulation Act of 1973, they said.
Two Turkish nationals who had been arrested with fake Indian currency notes worth Rs 1.5 crore, as well as 12 people accused of importing hazardous chemicals, secured bail after the apex court ruling, said a third official, who also requested anonymity.
The customs department has made 19 arrests in 120 cases over the past year.
“The amendment would strike a balance,” said the second official cited above. “We have no problems with bail being given if the offence is not major. But it should not be the case when it’s a major offence. It does not send the right signal if someone found for anti-national activities is let out on a simple bail.”
Advocate Rajiv Nayyar said the judgement has come as a relief for people from harassment by customs officials.
“On the other hand, customs should be given limited powers to arrest, since they also deal with serious crimes like fake currency circulation, arms smuggling, etc.,” he said. “If there is an amendment, then they should focus on this aspect that power to arrest be designated to responsible authorities and be limited to serious cases.”