Calcutta High Court Decides on the Jurisdictional Authority of Customs Officials Under the Customs Act

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The Customs officials at the Kolkata Airport detained the wife and sister of an MP. Officials filed a complaint against them. A summons is issued as a part of the investigation. They file an appeal to the Calcutta High Court under the present writ petition.

Facts of the Case

Ms Rujira Naroola and Ms Menka Gambhir were two VIP passengers returning from Thailand. The officers from Customs stopped them for mandatory checks. The passengers initially showed resistance, but later complied. 

The checks showed that there were three bags of jewellery. As a result, officials instructed them to let the lady officer inspect the bag. But the passengers were hostile. So, the officers moved them to a separate room. However, after finding out that one of them is the wife of an MP they let them go.

After the incident, complaints were brought against them. Senior customs officials agreed to look into the matter. However, on 22 March 2019, they filed a complaint against the passengers. They filed the complaint under Section 186/503 of the Indian Penal Code and Section 133 of the Customs Act. Both of the sections relate to preventing the public servant from doing his duty. 

Contentions by the State

The Additional Advocate General represented the State. The Customs officers lodged written information to the jurisdictional police station. The jurisdictional police authority requested for investigating the offence. As a result, the Ld. Magistrate passed an order permitting them for investigating the offence. Investigations began and several statements made by the witness were recorded. 

But on 26 March 2019, the Customs officers issued the summons. They issued the summons to the petitioners under Section 108 of the Customs Act. The Additional Advocate General pointed out that this is not necessary.

The Magistrate had committed the case to the investigating officers. Hence, the acts of the Customs officials were not within the jurisdiction. The position of law relating to the investigating power of Customs officer is dubious. He agreed that the officers did not have the authority to conclude an investigation. 

Contentions by the Passengers 

It was said that the Customs officers had no authority or right to investigate the case. Neither do they have this right as they had already handed the case over to the local police. Hence, the summons raised is void in nature.

The counsel points out that Section 133 of the Customs Act is not accompanied by a penalty. The language of the Section does not impose any penalty for the same. On the issue of the summons, the counsel refers to Section 108 of the Act. The customs officers did not follow the above-mentioned Section of the Act. 

Contentions by the Customs Officer 

The Additional Solicitor General appeared on behalf of the Customs officer. He stated that the summons is not without jurisdiction. It is to enforce an established right and not to establish the right.

Further, it highlighted the quasi-judicial powers of the Courts. The advocate pointed out that issuing summons is for investigation purpose. It is not conclusive in deciding anything. 

Decision of the Court

The Court took into consideration the various arguments presented before it. There was an effort made on its behalf to reason the case laws mentioned as well. It agrees with the reasoning given by the Additional Advocate General of the State.

The Court stated that the Customs officers did not have the jurisdiction to send summons. They had handed over the case to the police. As a result, their investigation power does not extend to the same. Hence, the Court ordered to quash the summons.


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