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Power of Customs/Central Excise Officers to arrest is under question

Power of Customs/Central Excise Officers to arrest is under question


Central Excise Officers are in their unifoms
Varanasi,Feb 17, 2012: The Supreme Court has held that evasion of central excise and customs duties is a bailable offence and authorities cannot arrest the offender without obtaining a warrant from a competent court.
A three judge bench headed by Justice Altamas Kabir said the main object of Custom and Excise Acts was the recovery of excise duties and not really to punish for infringement of its provisions.
“Having considered the various provisions of the Central Excise Act, 1944, and the Code of Criminal Procedure, which have been made applicable to the 1944 Act, we are of the view that the offences under the 1944 Act cannot be equated with offences under the Indian Penal Code which have been made non-cognizable and non-bailable,” the bench said.
“Language of the Scheme of 1944 Act seem to suggest that the main object of the enactment of the said Act was the recovery of excise duties and not really to punish for infringement of its provisions,” the bench also comprising justices Cyriac Joseph and S S Nijjar said while explaining the provision of the Excise Act.
The bench said that all offences under the Central Excise Act, 1944 and the Customs Act, 1962, are non-cognizable, and they are bailable.
Under the Cr.PC, a police officer had no authority to make an arrest, without a warrant, for a non-cognisable offence, the Bench pointed out.
“Different expressions used in the Code and also in connected enactments in respect of a non-cognizable offence, a police officer, and, in the instant case an excise officer, will have no authority to make an arrest without obtaining a warrant for the said purpose,” the bench said.
Consequently, as in the case of offences under the Central Excise Act, 1944, offences under Section 135 of the Customs Act, 1962, “are bailable and if the person arrested offers bail, he shall be released on bail in accordance with the provisions the Customs Act.”
It turned down the plea of Centre which contended that the power to arrest must necessarily be vested in Customs and Excise Officer for the efficient discharge of his functions and duties in order to prevent and tackle the menace of black money and money laundering.
“Section 9A of the 1944 Act and Section 104(4) of the Customs Act, 1962, provide that notwithstanding anything in the Code of Criminal Procedure, offences under both the Acts would be non-cognizable,” the bench said.
“The provisions of the two above-mentioned enactments (custom and excise) on the issue whether offences under both the said Acts are bailable, are not only similar, but the provisions of the two enactments are also in parimateria (similar) in respect thereof,” the bench said.
According to CrPC, all offences that are non-cognizable, arrest can only be carried out after obtaining a warrant from a Magistrate.
Therefore, the Customs/Central Excise officers have the power to arrest is under question now.
The concerned order of the Supreme Court is placed below for your ready reference.

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