1. The above appeal is filed, under Section 377 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, contending that the sentences awarded against the respondents 1 to 12, who were the accused, in Criminal Case No. 405 of 1975, in the Court of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Esplanade, Bombay, were grossly inadequate as after convicting each of them under Section 135(1)(i) read with Section 135(1)(a) of the Customs Act, 1962 and under Section 5 of the Imports and Exports (Control) Act, 1947, the learned Magistrate ordered:
(1) Accused Nos. 2 to 12 each sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for 9 months and to pay a fine of Rs. 1000/- or to undergo rigorous imprisonment for 15 days and accused No. 1 sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for one year and to pay a fine of Rs. 2000/- or to undergo rigorous imprisonment for one month; (2) Accused Nos. 1 to 12 each sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for 9 months and to pay a fine of Rs. 1000/- or undergo rigorous imprisonment for 15 days. Substantive sentences being ordered to run concurrently.
2. The case was instituted against the 12 accused persons upon a complaint filed by the Assistant Collector of Customs, Preventive Department, Bombay on August 14, 1975, in the Court of the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Esplanade, Bombay. It was alleged in the complaint as fellows:
Accused No. 1 was the tandel and accused Nos. 2 to 9 were the crew members of the mechanised Arab Dhow Alfazal and accused Nos. 10 to 12 were the crew members of the mechanised Indian fishing craft bearing registration No. PLG-399. Accused Nos. 1 and 2 were Pakistani nationals. On June 3, 1975. at night, in consequence of the receipt of certain information, Customs Rummaging Officers kept a discreet watch of an Arab Dhow and a fishing craft near Khanderi Island in the high Seas. Some time after midnight the said officers noticed flash light signals between two crafts and started chasing them when they approached nearer.
3. The said customs officers intercepted, after a long chase off Alibag, one of the two crafts namely the big mechanised Arab Dhow, while the other fishing craft made good its escape for the time being, The Registry Certificate of the said Arab Dhow revealed its name as 'Alfazal', and it was shown to have been built in Pakistan. The said Arab Dhow was shown to be owned by one Abdul Ibrahim Siddik of Dubai. The said Arab Dhow was found to be occupied by accused Nos. 1 to 9.
4. A number of gunny covered packages as also drums and steel trunks were found in the said Arab Dhow, The Dhow was escorted toy the said Customs Officers to Mole Station, Ballard Pier, Bombay for detailed examination of the said goods. Thereafter Panchas were called and the said gunny covered packages, drums, and steel trunks were opened and examined in the presence of panchas and in the presence of accused Nos. 1 to 9.
5. As a result of the said examination prohibited goods of foreign manufacture in trade quantity such as synthetic and metallic yarn, synthetic textiles, wall clocks, electronic desk calculators, alarm clocks, chemicals etc; were recovered. As accused Nos. 1 to 9 could not satisfactorily account for the said goods they were seized by the said Customs Officers under a panchnama under the Customs Act, 196,2, in the reasonable belief that the said goods were smuggled and hence liable to confiscation under the said Act.
6. Preliminary interrogation of accused Nos. 1 to 9 revealed that some packages containing smuggled goods had been already delivered from the said Arab Dhow to the said fishing craft. Thereupon Rummaging Customs Officers set out in the sea in search of the said fishing craft and successfully located it while it was coming from the direction of Khanderi Light House. Thereafter, the said Customs Officers chased the fishing craft and intercepted it off Kasa Rock. Colaba.
7. The said fishing craft was found to be a mechanised fishing craft bearing Registration No. PLG-399; and it was found to be occupied by accused Nos. 10 to 12. The said fishing craft was also escorted to Mole Station, Ballard Pier, Bombay. Thereafter panchas were called and the said fishing craft was examined by the said Customs Officers in the presence of panchas and in the presence of accused Nos. 10 to 12.
8. As a result of the said search, 2600 wrist-watches of foreign manufacture were recovered from gunny covered packages which were lying in the said fishing craft. As accused Nos. 10 to 12 could not satisfactorily account for the said wrist-watches, they were seized by the said Customs Officers under a panchnama under the Customs Act, 1962, in the reasonable belief that the said goods were smuggled and hence liable to confiscation under the said Act.
9. From the investigations made by the Customs Authorities it had been ascertained that the said Arab Dhow had come from Dubai with accused Nos. 1 to 9 on board; and that the said goods of foreign manufacture found in the said Arab Dhow were to be delivered by accused Nos. 1 to 9 to accused Nos. 10 to 12. in the said fishing craft; and that the said wrist-watches of foreign manufacture recovered from the said fishing craft had been actually delivered by accused Nos. 1 to 9 from the said Arab Dhow to accused Nos. 10 to 12 in the said fishing craft. The said investigations have further revealed that accused Nos. 1 to 12 were jointly and/or severally concerned in smuggling of the said goods recovered from the said Arab Dhow and. the said fishing craft into India.
10. The said goods recovered from the said Arab Dhow are collectively valued at Rs. 3,81,174/- on import and at Rupees 11,43,901/- at the local market rate and Customs Import Duty amounting to Rs. 4,57,408.180 is leviable thereon. The said wrist-watches recovered from the said fishing craft are valued at Rupees 1,10,000/- on import and Rs. 3,30,000/-at the local market rate and Customs Import duty amounting to. Rs. 1,32,000/-is leviable thereon.
11. Import of the said goods recovered from the said Arab Dhow and the said fishing craft into India is prohibited. except under a permit or licence granted by the appropriate Import Trade Control Authority vide the Imports (Control) Order, 1955 issued by the Government of India, Ministry of Commerce and Industry in pursuance of Sections 3 and 4-A of the Imports and Exports (Control) Act 1947. No such permit or licence in respect of the said goods has been produced by the accused. The accused had therefore contravened the Imports (Control) Order, 1955, made or deemed to have committed offences under Section 5 of the Imports and Exports (Control) Act, 1947.
12. The Complainant therefore charged the accused with having committed offences under Section 5 of the Imports and Exports (Control) Act, 1947 punishable thereunder. Restrictions imposed by the Imports (Control) Order, 1055, issued under the said Act, are deemed to have been imposed under Section 11 of the Customs Act. 1962 and all the provisions of that Act have effect accordingly. Under the Customs Act, 1962, the imports of the said goods into India in contravention of the provisions of the Imports and Exports (Control) Act, 1947 read with Imports (Control) Order, 1955 also amounts to offences under Sections 135(1)(a) and 135(1)(b) of the Customs Act, 1962 which are made punishable under the said Section 111 of the said Act by the Customs Authorities.
13. The complaint was filed against the accused after obtaining the sanction for prosecution from the Collector of Customs (Preventive) Bombay, which was produced along with the complaint, dated June 21, 1975.
14. After the accused appeared before the learned Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Bombay, on August 14, 1975, Mr. D.B. Bhappu, Assistant Collector of Customs, gave evidence in support of the allegations made in the complaint; and produced the statements made by accused Nos. 1 to 12 before the Customs Authority as Exs. A to L, two panchnamas Exs. M and N and the sanction order Ex. O, which proved the prosecution case beyond any shadow of doubt against the accused.
15. The witness was not even cross-examined on behalf of the accused. In their statements, accused Nos. 1 to 12 all pleaded guilty to the charges and prayed for mercy. The learned Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, unfortunately yielded to the plea of mercy at the cost of national and public interest and imposed the aforesaid sentences giving his reasons which have become rather notorious in this city as follows:
As to sentence, accused Nos. 1 to 12, are poor first offenders with clean records and therefore, they make a strong prayer for mercy and leniency, They point out that they are poor sailors, who transported the goods in the Arab Dhow and the Country craft at the instance of the owner of the goods. They also point out that due to their ignorance of law, they were made scapegoats by the smugglers. They further point out that they are living from hand to mouth and ere ruined on account of this prosecution.
They therefore, pray that I should show utmost leniency in passing the sentences as they had no intention to profiteer from the goods. On the other hand, the learned Prosecutor presses for deterrent sentences,. On a cumulative consideration of all these aspects, I think comparatively lenient sentence against the accused would meet the ends of justice as they seem to be mere sailors having no proprietary interest in the goods. As accused No. 1 was the Tandel, his sentence should be a little more than the sentences of accused Nos. 2 to 12.
16. Similar 'Cumulative' consideration of all these aspects, relied upon by the learned Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, in such smuggling cases were condemned in no uncertain terms in the judgments of this Court, in Criminal Appeal No. 646 of 1975 with Criminal Appeal No. 255 of 1975 decided on October 6, 1975 (Bom) and Criminal Appeal No. 584 of 1975, decided on October 15, 1975 (Bom) as also in Criminal Appeal No. 481 of 1975 with Criminal Application No. 1057 of 1975 decided on September 25. 1975 (Bom).
17. We are shocked to see that the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate in this City, which is one of the main centres of smuggling activities in the country should indulge in such stereotyped, unconvincing and bald reasons for imposing such grossly inadequate sentences, ignoring the aim and object of the amendment of the Customs Act by Act 36 of 1973, by which the maximum sentence of 5 years under Section 135(1)(i) was increased to 7 years and the maximum sentence under Section 135(1)(b)(ii) was increased from 2 years to 3 years.
18. The learned Chief Metropolitan Magistrate should have noticed that this enhancement in the maximum sentence was enacted by the Parliament to meet the self necessity of the whole nation to curb antinational smuggling activities of national and international smugglers which have shattered the economy of the country; and the lives of everyone are made miserable, as a result of too soft implementation of the provisions of the Customs Act, like the one revealed by the learned Chief Metropolitan Magistrate in this case, which invariably leads to miscarriage of justice and mockery of the anti-smuggling laws or Rule of law.
19. None of the reasons given by the learned Magistrate can be considered to be relevant for the interpretation and enforcing of the anti-smuggling laws of this country. Smuggling activity across the Arabian Sea cannot be carried out without the carriers like the accused to assist the smugglers and owners of the Arab Dhow and the goods, who are generally the only persons whom the Customs and Excise Authorities can reach. Poverty can never be an excuse for committing crimes which are drowning the economic security and the life of this country.
20. It is very difficult to understand what the learned Magistrate means in his judgments of this kind as 'cumulative consideration of all these aspects'. The goods carried in the Dhow, in this case were of the market value of Rs. 11,43.901; and Customs Import Duty amounting to Rs. 4,57,408-80. It is only by accident and chance that this Dhow is intercepted by the Customs Authority. The goods recovered from the fishing craft were valued on import at Rs. 3,30,000 at the local market. It is shocking to see that the learned Magistrate thought that the lenient sentences against such smugglers would meet the ends of justice.
21. In our opinion, it will not be justice but mockery of justice and sabotaging anti-smuggling laws to make it easy for smugglers to carry on injurious activities with the assistance of poor people, even assuming that they are poor, as stated by the learned Magistrate, by looking after the families, of such accused when they go in jail for a short period. There is nothing on the record to justify the remark of the learned Magistrate that the accused are 'poor' and they are 'first offenders' except what the accused themselves have said so in their statements before the Customs Authority.
22. On going through the statements we find that the Arab Dhow tried to escape from the Customs Authority, but was over-powered. The learned Magistrate ought to have known that a Dhow like this cannot be run without the assistance of all the accused. There was no reason for him to discriminate between the tandel and the others because all were sailing in the same boat in committing crime against the country.
23. When dealing with the economic offences, it is the duty of the courts of justice to understand those offences and the aims and objects of the State in enacting laws in respect of those offences; and to enforce them so as to carry out those objects effectively and properly and not by meeting out light sentence as has been done by the learned Magistrate. These are not the cases where such leniency can be shown to the accused. The accused did not care for the country or for the security of the life of the country. Such accused must be dealt with severely and not leniently as done by the learned Magistrate.
24. It is high time that the Courts should learn the economic laws which are meant for preventing economic exploitation of scarcity conditions in the country, Unless the sentences are proper end deterrent the economic laws can never be enforced properly. We, therefore, called upon the learned Counsel appearing for accused No. 9 to show why the maximum sentence under the Customs Act, should not be imposed in this case.
25. Unfortunately, by process of delays which are becoming more and more in the smugglers' cases at the hands of the persons concerned, the other accused were served only recently; and it appears that all the accused except 8 and 9 were in jail and there is no reason for discriminating between them. The crew in the Arab Dhow were as much responsible for the offence as the crew in the fishing craft. We are, therefore, of the view that they are all deserving the same sentence.
26. The sentence must always befit the crime, the criminal and the times. In view of the fact that the Parliament has especially amended the Customs Act by increasing the sentence from the old maximum five years to the present maximum seven years; and also having regard to the quantity, nature and value of the goods seized, the manner in which they were seized and in the facts and circumstances, including the fact that all the accused had pleaded for mercy and submitted that they are poor, we think that the proper sentence in all the facts and circumstances of the case should be in addition to the fines, which are already imposed by the learned Magistrate, and the default sentences which are imposed by him in suspect of those fines, five years rigorous imprisonment for each of the accused.
27. In the result, the appeal is allowed and for the order passed by the learned Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, Bombay, the following order has been substituted:
Each one of the accused 1 to 12 is sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for five years and a fine of Rs. 1000/- or in default to undergo 15 days' rigorous imprisonment under Section 135(1)(i) read with Section 135(1)(b) of the Customs Act, 1962.
Each one of the accused 1 to 12 is sentenced to rigorous imprisonment for nine months and a fine of Rs. 1000/- or in default to undergo 15 days' rigorous imprisonment, under Section 5 of the Imports and Exports (Control) Act. 1947.
28. Substantive sentences to run concurrently.
29. Accused Nos. 3 and 9 if they are not in custody must be arrested and taken into custody to serve the sentence as ordered above.