1. What do you understand by the term ‘Duty of Customs’?
Ans: Duty of Customs refers to duty leviable on goods imported or exported under provisions of the Customs Act, 1962. Entry 83 of the Union List of the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution provides for levy of duties of customs including export duties. The rates of duty leviable on goods imported into India and exported from India have been specified in the Customs Tariff Act, 1975. The Customs Act, 1962, read with rules and regulations framed there under is a complete code governing import, export, warehousing, payment of drawback etc.
2. What are the remedies available for resolving disputes under the Customs Act, 1962?
Ans: Any dispute whether relating to quantum of levy or any other matter connected therewith as provided in the Act can be adjudged by the Customs Officers. Against any such decision the aggrieved party can file appeal before the appellate forums such as Commissioner of Customs (Appeals), Customs, Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT), High Court or as the case may be the Supreme court. The average time taken by the Adjudicating Officer is about one year whereas by the Commissioner (Appeals) it varies from 1-2 years; when any case is before Tribunal, the average time period is about 5-6 years.
3. Is there any provision to settle the dispute expeditiously?
Ans: There were no provisions for expeditious settlement of dispute till Chapter XIV-A was introduced in the Customs Act through the Finance Act, 1998. The Settlement Commission constituted under Section 32 of the Central Excise Act, 1944, can also settle dispute relating to Customs.
4. Who can apply for settlement of cases before the Settlement Commission?
Ans: Any importer, exporter or any other person may at any stage of a case relating to him make an application in the prescribed form containing full and true disclosure of his duty liability which has not been disclosed before the proper officer. The amount of duty involving such case admitted by the applicant shall be `3 lakh and above.
5. What categories of cases cannot come before the Settlement Commission?
Ans: No application could be made before the Settlement Commission in the following types of cases:-
i) Where the applicant has not filed any Customs documents or where no show cause notice has been issued;
ii) The additional amount of duty accepted by the applicant in his application shall be `3 lakh and above;
iii) The case of the applicant is not pending before the Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT) or any court;
iv) The goods relating to the dispute is not good as specified under Section 123 of the Customs Act;
v) The goods in relation to the dispute is not covered under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985;
vi) The applicant cannot bring any dispute before the Settlement Commission which involves interpretation of the classification of any goods under the Customs
vii) Where any dutiable goods, books of accounts, other documents or any sale proceeds of the goods have been seized, no application can be filed before the Settlement Commission till expiry of one hundred and eighty days from the date of seizure.
6. What procedure is followed in the Settlement Commission?
Ans: On receipt of application, the Settlement Commission will see whether it is a fit case for being admitted for settlement. Once the application is admitted, hearing is given for final disposal of the case after conducting investigation by the Officers of the Settlement Commission if it is so necessary.
7. Can Settlement Commission grant immunity from prosecution and penalty?
Ans: The Settlement Commission if it is satisfied about bonafide conduct of the applicant can grant immunity from prosecution or imposition of penalty, fine, either in whole or in part. Such immunity is not only under the Customs Act but also under any other Central Act for the time being in force.
8. What could be the average time for settlement of a case?
Ans: Settlement of a case should be within nine months from the last day of the month in which the application was made. For reasons to be recorded in writing, by the Settlement Commission, the period can be extended by a further period of three months.
9. Is the dispute before the Settlement Commission cost effective?
Ans: The dispute before the Settlement Commission is much less costly and beneficial to the applicant compared to the normal appeal procedure which is not only time consuming but also expensive. Thus, if conforms to the proverb ‘time saved is money saved’.
10. Is the proceedings before the Settlement Commission the judicial proceedings?
Ans: Any proceedings before the Settlement Commission shall be deemed to be a judicial proceeding within the meaning of Sections 193 and 228, and for the purposes of Section 196 of the Indian Penal Code.
11. Is the order of settlement conclusive?
Ans: The order of the Settlement Commission is conclusive with the matters settled therein. The matter covered in the Settlement Commission’s order cannot be re-opened in any proceedings under Act or under any other law for the time being in force.