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Nathella Sampathu Chetty and anr. Vs. Collector of Customs, Madras - Court Judgment

LegalCrystal Citation
SubjectConstitution;Customs
CourtChennai High Court
Decided On
Case NumberWrit Petn. Nos. 384 of 1957 and 660 of 1958
Judge
Reported inAIR1959Mad142
ActsConstitution of India - Articles 19(1), 19(5), 19(6) and 226; Sea Customs Act, 1878 - Sections 167(8), 178, 178A(1) and 183; Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947 - Sections 23A
AppellantNathella Sampathu Chetty and anr.
RespondentCollector of Customs, Madras
Appellant AdvocateS.R. Vakil, Adv. for ;Jacob and Ratan, Advs.
Respondent AdvocateAdv. General and ;Govt. Pleader
DispositionPetition allowed
Cases ReferredLeo Roy Frey v. Superintendent
Excerpt:
sea customs act (viii of 1878)--section 178-a (1)-- whether infringes article 19(1)(f) and (g) of constitution, and therefore void under article 13--scope of powers of collector under section 23-a of foreign exchange regulation act (vii of 1947); section 178-a (1) of the sea customs act (viii of 1878) so far as it relates to gold among the articles enumerated in clause (2) constitutes as unconstitutional infringement of the fundamental right of an individual secured by articles 19 (1)(f) and 19(1)(g) and is, therefore, void under article 13 of the constitution.; unless it is established that the gold was seized in the reasonable belief that it was smuggled gold, section 178-a of the sea customs act cannot apply. the reasonable belief must be of the officer who effected the seizure, which.....1. the first petitioner is the proprietor of a firm which carries on business at madras in gold bullion and jewellery. the second petitioner is an employee of the firm. on 26-6-1956 when the second petitioner alighted from the bombay mail at central station at madras, he was in possession of four blocks of moosa gold weighing about 1000 tolas valued at over one lakh of rupees. the claim of the petitioner all along was that the first petitioner was the owner of that sold as it was with the money found by the first petitioner that the gold was purchased at bombay by the second petitioner for and on behalf of the first petitioner.2. the following narrative of what happened after the second petitioner got off the train at the central station on 26-6-1956 is taken from the order of the.....
Judgment:
1. The first petitioner is the proprietor of a firm which carries on business at Madras in gold bullion and jewellery. The second petitioner is an employee of the firm. On 26-6-1956 when the second petitioner alighted from the Bombay Mail at Central Station at Madras, he was in possession of four blocks of Moosa gold weighing about 1000 tolas valued at over one lakh of rupees. The claim of the petitioner all along was that the first petitioner was the owner of that sold as it was with the money found by the first petitioner that the gold was purchased at Bombay by the second petitioner for and on behalf of the first petitioner.

2. The following narrative of what happened after the second petitioner got off the train at the Central Station on 26-6-1956 is taken from the order of the Collector of Customs dated 11-3-1956:

"On 26-6-1956 at about 6 a.m. Sri G. Nandagopal (second petitioner) who alighted at the Central Railway Station from the Bombay Express train was intercepted by a Head Constable attached to the Prohibition Intelligence Bureau, Madras Sri Nandagopal admitted that he was in possession of gold, which he was bringing for his firm from Bombay. Immediately the Customs Officers, who were on duty at the Central Railway Station contacted the Head Constable and questioned Sri Nandagopal, Sri Nandagopal admitted that he had on his person about 1000 tolas of "Moosa" gold and accordingly four blocks of gold without marks were recovered from Sri Nandagopal's possession. Sri Nandagopal was not in possession of any bill or purchase receipt or weignmentslip for the said gold. The gold blocks were seized by the Police and passed on to Customs Officers under a mahazar."

3. The further facts were set out in paragraph 3 of the counter affidavit filed by the respondent, the Collector of Customs:

"In a statement recorded immediately after the seizure before an independent witness, lie (the second petitioner) stated that he proceeded to Bombay on 22-6-1956 on instructions of his principal, the first petitioner herein, with Rs. 1,00,000, that he purchased the said gold on 24-6-1956 from Messrs. Mathuradas Gopalakrishnayya and Co., Jahvari Bazar, Bombay and brought the gold with him. A letter dated 22-6-1956 by Tulast Shah of the first petitioner's firm to Mathuradas Gopalakrishnayya and Co., Bombay, requesting them to receive and credit in their favour the sum of Rs, 1,00,000 sent in cash, was also recovered from the second petitioner. The second petitioner could not however account as to how he retained the letter with him. The Manager of the first petitioner's firm who was immediately contacted, admitted in writing that he had sent the second petitioner to Bombay to purchase gold. The first petitioner in his statement dated 28-6-1956 also affirmed that the second petitioner was sent with instructions to purchase "Mysore Petla" gold from Mathuradas Gopalakrishnayya and Co., Bombay, and that he believed that the second petitioner had purchased the gold from that firm. The first petitioner by the same statement undertook to produce the relative bill and touch report on their receipt. On 5-7-1956 the petitioner forwarded to the respondent a bill dated 24-6-1956 issued by Mathuradas Shewakaram of M/s. Damodardas Hamandass, 32/34 C. P. Tank Road, Bombay for a sum of Rs. 1,01,171-6-0 for the sale of four blocks of gold weighing 1000.7 tolas to the first petitioner's firm and also a statement from the said Shewakaram affirming the transaction. The petitioner in his covering letter stated that the gold had been purchased by the second petitioner from Shewakaram through a broker by name Odhavdas Gokuldas. No lest report was however sent to the respondent. On 10-7-1956 when the second petitioner was interrogated by the Assistant Collector of Customs (Preventive) in the presence of his counsel, he retracted from his earlier statement recorded in the presence of an independent witness on 26-6-1956 and stated that the gold was purchased by him from Shewak-ram through, his firm's broker. Ho admitted that no receipt was given by Shewakram on 24-6-1956 and that he made the statement on 26-6-1956 because he was afraid of his master the first petitioner who had asked him to buy gold from Mathuradas Gopalakrishnayya and Co."

After further enquiries by the Customs department, the Assistant Collector issued a notice to the second petitioner on 15-1-1957. That notice summarised what had happened up to that date. Paragraph'10 of that notice set out:

"The explanations so far offered by, or on behalf of, Sri Nandagopal do not discharge the burden of proof imposed upon Sri Nandagopal by Section 178-A of the Sea Customs Act. It is therefore necessary to call upon him to show cause why the gold should not be confiscated Under Section 167(8) of the Sea Customs Act read with Section 23-A of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, 1947, as gold brought into India in contravention of the prohibition imposed by Section 8(1) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act read with Section 19 of the Sea Customs Act"

4. The second petitioner submitted on 30-1-1957 what has been termed by the Collector an "elaborate reply" to the notice issued on 15-1-1957. The Collector of Customs also accorded a personal hearing when the second petitioner was represented by the counsel. One of the main questions debated during that enquiry was whether the second petitioner had discharged the burden of proving that the gold in question was not smuggled gold, that is, whether the requirements of Section 178-A of the Sea Customs Act were satisfied by the second petitioner.

5. In paragraph 10 of the order dated 11-3-1957 the Collector recorded:

"That the gold which was being transported from Bombay to Madras on 26-6-1957 was discovered in circumstances which raised a Strong suspicion that it was smuggled gold has been established beyond all doubt.....But the utter lack of any original record made before the gold was seized, coupled with the fact that not even the broad outlines could be revealed until after Sri Thulasi Shah returned from Bombay, make it quite impossible for me to hold that, by presenting this story, Sri Nandaeopal has satisfactorily discharged the onus of proof that the gold is not smuggled gold.....In fact Sri Nandagopal's efforts to discharge the burden of proof merely serve very strongly to confirm the original belief of the Customs Officers who seized the gold that it was smuggled gold,"

The operative portion set out in paragraph 12 of the order of the Collector ran:

"I unhesitatingly hold that Sri Nandagopal has failed to discharge the burden of proving that the gold seized from him at the Madras Central railway station on 26-6-1956 is not smuggled gold. It follows that I must hold the gold to be gold imported into India in contravention of Section 19 of the Sea Customs Act read with the Notification No. 12(11) F. 1/48 dated 25-8-1948 (as amended) issued by the Central Government Under Section 8(i) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act and Section 23 (ibici) and therefore to be gold liable to confiscation. I confiscate the gold Under Section 167, Clause 8 of the Sea Customs Act and I do not give Sri Nandagopal any option to pay a fine in lieu of confiscation."

6. The petitioners applied under Article 226 of the Constitution for the issue of a writ of certiorari to set aside the order of the Collector dated 11-3-1957, W. P. No. 384 of 1957. In the course of his arguments the learned counsel for the petitioners represented that the petitioners would apply for further relief, which he could do only by a separate petition in compliance with the requirements of the practice of this Court. The petitioners thereupon preferred W. P. No. 660 of 1958, which was also under Article 226 of the Constitution, and obtained a rule nisi.

The further relief asked for in W. P. No. 660 of 1958, was the

"issue of a writ of mandamus or any other order, writ or direction calling for the records re-lating to the order of the Collector of Customs in No. S. 363-7/57 dated 11-3-1957 and direct the respondent to return to the petitioners the gold confiscated by the respondent under his order dated 11-3-1957."

It was agreed by counsel on both sides that both the petitions could be disposed of together.

7. The learned counsel for the petitioners attacked the validity of the order of the Collector dated 11-3-1957 on the following grounds; (1) Section 178-A of the Sea Customs Act was void under Article 13 of the Constitution as it was inconsistent with the fundamental rights of the petitioners guaranteed by Articles 19(1)(f) and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution and the statutory provisions were therefore unenforceable against the petitioners; (2) Even if Section 178-A of the Sea Customs Act was valid and enforceable, the requirements of that Section were not satisfied in this case.

The statutory burden could have been cast on the second petitioner only if the gold had been seized in the reasonable belief that it was smuggled gold. There was no evidence and there was no finding, that at the point of seizure of the gold from the second petitioner on 28-6-1958 the Customs authorities who effected the seizure had reasonable belief that it was smuggled gold. (3) The order of confiscation without the option of a fine, which option was obligatory Under Section 183 of the Sea Customs Act was under the enabling provision of Section 23-A of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (Act 7 of 1947).

Section 178-A of the Sea Customs Act would not apply in determining whether the provisions of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act applied. The order of confiscation which was virtually passed on the finding, that the burden of proof cast oh the second petitioner by Section 178-A of the Sea Customs' Act had not been discharged by him, was therefore illegal.

8. We shall proceed to deal with each of .these contentions. Section 178-A of the Sea Customs Act, the validity of which has been impugned runs:

"(1) Where any goods to which this Section applies are seized under this Act in the reasonable belief that they are smuggled goods, the burden of proving that they are not smuggled goods shall be on the person from whose possession the goods were seized.

(2)This Section shall apply to gold, gold manufactures, diamonds and other precious stones, cigaretts and cosmetics and any other goods which the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify in this behalf." (Sub-section (3) is omitted as it is not relevant for our purpose.) Section 178-A was enacted by the Amending Act 21 of 1955.

9. In the as yet unreported decision in Aminchand Vallamji v. M. G. Abrol, (Misc. Appln. No. 21 of 1937, the High Court of Bombay Original Side), a copy of which was made available to us, K. T. Desai J. held that Section 178-A of the Sea Customs Act was inconsistent with the fundamental rights guaranteed to a citizen by Articles 19(1)(f) and 19(1)(g) of the Constitution and was therefore void. Naturally the learned counsel for the petitioners relied to a considerable extent on that decision in support of his challenge to the validity of Section 178-A of the Sea Customs Act.

10. The validity of Section 178-A was no doubt considered by. the Supreme Court in Babulal Amtha-lal Mehta v. Collector of Customs Calcutta, . The challenge then was based only on

Article 14 of the Constitution and the Supreme Court held that the impugned Section could not be struck down on the infirmity either of discrimination or illegal classification, and that it did not offend against Article 14 of the Constitution. At page 830 (of SCJ): (at p. 879 of AIR), however, Govinda Menon J. said:

"Though Mr. Chatterjee faintly argued that the provisions of Article 19(1)(f) and (g) and Article 31 of the Constitution had been violated, he did not seriously press those, contentions The main point of the attack was centred on the contention that Section 178-A was violative of equal protection of the laws guaranteed under Article 14 of the Constitution."

11. That decision, therefore does not bar an investigation of the question, whether Section 178-A of the Sea Customs Act is void under Article 13 of the Constitution of any other ground, for example, that it offends against Article 19(I)(f) and/or (g) and is not saved by Clause (5) or Clause (6) of Article 19. On this point we are in respectful agreement with Desai J.

12. Even at the outset we must make it clear that we shall consider the validity or invalidity of Article 178-A(I) of the Sea Customs Act only in relation to gold among the articles enumerated in Clause (2) of that section. Possibly other considerations might arise, if the question has to be considered with reference to any of the Other commodities specified in Clause (2) or which can be brought within the scope of that Clause by the notification for which that clause provides. Confining the question to gold. Article 178-A(1) would in effect read as follows:

"Where gold is seized under this Act in the reasonable belief that it is smuggled gold, the burden of proving that it is not smuggled gold shall be on the person from whose possession the gold was seized."

In the absence of any statutory definition of the expression "smuggled" it will have to be given its normal dictionary meaning, which, in relation to goods, is "imported or exported illegally". Evasion of payment of customs duties prescribed by appropriate legislation is but one type of illegality. Such evasion could be either by bringing the goods into the country otherwise than through the customs barier on payment of customs duty or by getting the goods through the customs barrier otherwise than on a true declaration of the nature of the goods. Independent of . any Question of the legal liability to pay the customs duties where the import of goods is absolutely prohibited by law, and such goods are brought into the country, they would also be smuggled goods, that is goods imported illegally. The same considerations would apply where the import is not absolutely prohibited but is regulated, for example, by the grant of permission Under Section 8(1) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (Act 7 of 1947). We have only given illustrative examples of what would constitute smuggled goods.

13. The stock of gold held by our countrymen have been the subject of comment for over 20 centuries. It may not be necessary to furnish . statistical details, though some of them were mentioned during the arguments before us, based mainly on the reports of the Reserve Bank of India. Part of the gold now in India was of indigenous origin, but most of it came from other countries. Gold poured into this country for centuries before any one thought of customs duties or exchange regulations.

In the ultimate shape the gold might constitute, for example, jewellery and even blocks or bars of gold cast into convenient sizes for sale; it is really impossible to say from its look whether it was indigenous, gold or gold which was imported. Certainly it is impossible to say by a look at the gold when it was imported, and. whether after the imposition of restrictions, it was imported on payment of the customs duty or on the grant of a licence. Gold has all along been an article of unrestricted trade in the open market in India.

Import of gold was not restricted or regulated until comparatively recently. It was only in 1939 that a licence was prescribed for the import of gold by a notification issued under the Sea Customs Act. Customs duties on import of gold came into force only after 1946. The import of gold is now regulated by the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act. The permission of the Reserve Bank is necessary Under Section 8(1) of that Act. Even so, as tile learned counsel for the petitioners pointed out, no one who wants to buy .gold in the open market would think of asking for its "pedigree," to verify when and where that gold first came into existence, or even, when it first became available in India as an article of merchandise. That was the position when Section 178-A of the Sea Customs Act was enacted by Act 21 of 1953.

14. The burden cast by Section 178-A on a person in India unfortunate or otherwise, but in possession of gold, can well be set out in the language of the Supreme Court in . The relevant

passage is at page 833 (of SCJ): (at p. 880 of AIR).

"No doubt the content and import of the Section are very wide. It applies not only to the actual smuggler from whose possession the goods are seized but also to those who came into possession of the goods after having purchased the same after the same has passed through many hands or agencies. For example, if the Customs authorities have a reasonable belief that certain goods in the possession of an innocent party are smuggled goods and the same is seized under the provisions of this Act, then the person from whose possession the goods were seized, however, innocent he may be, has to prove that the goods are not smuggled articles., This is no doubt a very heavy and onerous duty cast on an innocent possessor who, for aught one knows, may have bona fide paid adequate consideration for the purchase) of the articles without knowing that the same has been smuggled. The only pre-requisite for the application of the Section is the subjectivity of the customs-officer in having a reasonable belief that the goods are smuggled."

15. This was reiterated in a later passage at pages 833-4 (of SCJ) : (at p. 881 of AIR) :

"As stated already, it is a heavy burden to be laid upon the shoulders of an innocent purchaser who might have come into possession after the article has changed many hands....."

16. Does the imposition of that statutory burden offend against the fundamental right guaranteed to the petitioners as citizens of India by Article 19(1)(f) and/or 19(1)(g), and can that burden be viewed as a reasonable restriction on the exercise of these rights within the limits prescribed by Clauses (5) and (6) of Article 19 of the constitution are the questions we have to determine.

17. In relation to gold it should be obvious that the petitioners could claim the benefit or both Article 19(1)(f) and 19(1)(g). Gold is property which the first petitioner could acquire, hold and dispose of in the exercise of the right guaranteed by Article 19(1)(f). The first petitioner could also claim the right guaranteed by Article 19(1)(g) to carry on trade or business in gold. It is his business and the second petitioner is an employee of his in that business.

If any portion of the gold which the first petitioner held as owner and dealer, either directly or through his employee the second petitioner, was seized by the customs authorities--we shall presently deal with the question under what circumstances it could be seized Section. 178-A imposes on the person from whom the gold was seized factually it was seized from the second petitioner in this case the burden of proving that the seized gold was not smuggled gold.

Obviously it is a restriction on the right to acquire, hold and dispose of, gold as property and on the right to carry on business in gold, both of which the first petitioner could claim. So the real question for determination is, whether it is a restriction within the limits set by Article 19(5) and Article 19(6) of the Constitution. Is it a reasonable restriction, and has that reasonable restriction been imposed in the interests of the general public? Both the requirements have to be satisfied before the validity of Section 178-A(1) of the Sea Customs Act can be upheld.

18. The contention of the learned Advocate General, who appeared for the respondent, was that the restriction was imposed in the interests of the general public. That contention, in our opinion, is well founded. The validity of the laws imposing restrictions on the import of gold was never in issue in these proceedings. Gold can be imported only after obtaining permission from the Reserve Rank of India Under Section 8(1) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, and even then only after payment of the Customs duty. It was represented that in the present economic position of the country the import of gold is virtually banned, because the Reserve Bank has seldom seen any justification for the grant of permission to import gold.

Effectuation of these laws itself is in the interests of the general public. Any statutory provision to arm the authorities with the necessary powers to enforce the laws regulating import of gold and to prevent the evasion of these laws is legislation conceived in the interests of the general public. In Gnruviah Naidu and Bros. v. State of Madras, 1957-2 Mad LJ 469: (AIR 1958 Mad 158), a Division Bench of this court, of which one of us was a member, observed at page 479 (of Mad LJ): (at p. 166 of AIR).

"A statute, might therefore itself be the foundation for the creation and emergence of a public interest to preserve its principles and to secure that it is not evaded, To the extent that that law or other law enables this purpose to be achieved its enforcement must be held to be in the public interest."

We do not consider it necessary to refer again to the English decisions considered in 1957-2 Mad LJ 469: (AIR 1958 Mad 158). That leaves us with the question whether it was a reasonable restriction that Section 178-A(1) of the Sea Customs Act imposed.

19. In examining the reasonableness or otherwise of a statutory restriction imposed on the exercise of the fundamental rights guaranteed by Article 19(1) we have to see among other things what need it was that the statutory provision was intended to serve. For that it is permissible to look into the Statement of Objects and Reason's furnished by the legislature itself. In explaining the need for Clause 14 of the Bill, under which Section 178-A was eventually incorporated into the Sea Customs Act by Act 21 of 1955, the Statement of Objects and Reasons set out:

"At present when action is taken against persons who are in possession of smuggled gold it is not always easy for the Customs authorities to prove that the goods are smuggled goods. This clause places the burden of proof in such cases on persons from whose possession the suspected smuggled goods are seized. Such a provision is necessary in order to safeguard the revenues of the State."

Two factors at least emerge. There was need to supplement the existing statutory provisions to prevent smuggling of gold among other commodities to safeguard the revenues of the State. We can add, there was need to prevent smuggling of gold in contravention of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act. The other factor was "it is not always easy for the Customs authorities to prove the goods are smuggled goods."

Paraphrased, this may well mean in some cases at least :

"We have to determine when the gold we have seized first arrived in India, to verify whether or not it was smuggled. It may not even be enough to prove the history of gold upto 1939 when restrictions were first imposed on the import of gold. Despite our resources, despite the facilities for investigation which the police and Customs officers have, we are unwilling or unable to undertake that investigation.

In many cases we find it impossible to secure evidence which will prove that the seized gold was smuggled into the country. So, you, the person from whose possession the gold was seized, must prove among other things the origin of the gold, to establish that the gold was not smuggled into the country. You may, from the facts within your personal knowledge, prove that you bought the gold bona fide in the open market. But that is not enough. You must establish by positive evidence when and under what circumstances this piece of gold came into this country."

Put that way the unreasonableness of the demand is manifest; and yet that is a demand sanctioned by Section 178-A(1) of the Sea Customs Act.

20. Of course it is not to every piece of gold found in the country to which Section 178-A(1) will apply. The Section limits it to gold that is seized under the provisions of the Sea Customs Act in the reasonable belief that it is smuggled gold. We shall deal later with the question at what point of time that reasonable belief has to be formed. It may not be necessary now to examine the scope of Ss. 169, 171 and 172 of the Sea Customs Act which provide for seizure. Section 176, which is comprehensive in its scope, runs:

"Anything liable to confiscation under the Act may be seized in any place, either upon land or water, by any officer or Customs or other person duly employed for the prevention of smuggling." Smuggled gold is certainly liable to be confiscated Under Section 167(8) of the Sea Customs Act. But before congiscation can be ordered it must be proved it was smuggled gold. Section 178-A(1) in effect directs that if gold is seized in the reasonable belief that it was smuggled, it is for the person from whom it was seized to prove that it was not smuggled.

The learned counsel for the petitioners urged, with a real basis for that contention, that the apparent limitation might well be illusory in determining whether Section 178-A(1) of the Sea Customs Act imposed a reasonable restriction on the fundamental rights of a citizen to acquire, own and dispose of gold and to trade in gold. The limitation imposed by Section 178-A(1) is that the gold must have been seized in the reasonable belief that it was smuggled gold.

As the Supreme Court pointed out in ,

"the only pre-requisite for the application of the Section is the subjectivity of the Customs Officer in having a reasonable belief that the goods are smuggled."

The reasonableness of the belief is not subject to investigation by a court by the application of any objective criteria. Whether the belief was in the circumstances of a given case reasonable or not is thus not a Justiciable issue.

The learned counsel for the petitioners pointed out that, even in a departmental enquiry under the Sea Customs Act, it may not be open to the person called on to explain why the seized gold should not be confiscated to ask for evidence of the grounds on which the officer who seized the gold formed a reasonable belief that the gold in question was smuggled. All that such a person could ask of the enquirying officer at that stage is only a verification whether the gold was factually seized on such reasonable belief, and not a verification of the grounds for that belief.

The requirement that factually the officer who effected the seizure should have acted on a reasonable belief apparently it should be enough if he said so, without any liability to disclose the grounds of his belief may be no safeguard at all, even though the view-point of courts would be, as it should be, that normally officers entrusted with statutory powers of seizure would act reasonably and in good faith, which postulates due care and enquiry, and that the reasonable belief required by Section 178-A(1) would be formed on rational grounds.

21. The learned counsel for the petitioners pointed out that under the rules a successful detection of smuggling results in pecuniary rewards upto half the value of the smuggled goods and he submitted that what is at best a subjective satisfaction of the Officer who seized the goods may be tainted by the expectation of such reward.

The reasonable expectation of the court which we have postulated above, should itself suffice to rule out further consideration of this plea. Besides every seizure, even on the basis of a reasonable belief, need not necessarily result in an enquiry, in the course of which the person from whom the gold was seized would be called upon to bear the statutory burden imposed by Section 178-A(1).

Certainly, it is not every seizure that ultimately results in confiscation. The sequence of events would be, as the learned Advocate-General pointed out, seizure delivery to the Customs Officer Under Section 179, a probable investigation at that stage for the Customs Officer, competent to order or to hold an inquiry, to decide whether there was prima facie evidence to show that an offence punishable Under Section 167(8) of the Sea Customs Act has been committed, issue of notice to the person from whom gold was seized, and then an enquiry.

It is only at the stage of that enquiry that Section 178-A(1) comes into play. The learned Advocate-General submitted that though it may not be open to the person from whom gold was seized to plead or prove at that enquiry that the seizure itself was without reasonable cause and was therefore illegal, the normal expectation should" be, that the officer who issues notice to that person would satisfy himself before the issue of the notice that the seizure was lawful.

22. Even to those brought upto believe, almost as an article of faith, in the initial presumption of innocence in the case of a person charged with the commission of an offence punishable under the law, it should be obvious that for the legislature to cast the initial burden of proof on such a person is not per se a violation of the safeguards provided by our Constitution. If such a legislative provision affects or abridges any of the fundamental rights guaranteed for instance by Article 19(1) and constitutes a restriction on the exercise of those rights, courts will have to examine the reasonableness of the restriction,

The reasonableness of the legislative provision casting the initial and rebutable burden of proof on the person charged with the offence will have to be tested with reference to the needs of the situation and the relation of the rule of burden of proof to the context. As pointed out by Maha-jan J. in Chintaman Rao v. State of Madhya Pra-desh, what Should be established is a reasonable relation of the provisions of the Act to the purpose in view. This is how Chagla C. T. put it in Bapubhai Ratan-diand v. State of Bombay, , which was quoted by Desai J. in his judgment in Misc. Apple. 21 of 1957 (Bom):

"It is true that when a restriction is imposed upon the right of a citizen guaranteed to him under Article 19 it is for the State to justify that restriction. But w. tether a restriction is reasonable or not must be judged not in the abstract but in the context of the times and in the context of social needs and social urges."

The test postulated by the Supreme Court in is realty not different from that laid down by the Supreme Court of America for 'examining the validity of an im-pugned statutory provision for presumptions in law with reference to the "due process" clause. In Alonzo Bailey v. State of Alabama, (1911) 55 Law Ed, 191 Hughes J. quoted with approval the principle laid down in an earlier case by Lurton J. at page 200 of the report:

"That a legislative presumption of one fact from evidence of another may not constitute a denial of due process of law, or a denial of the equal protection of the law; it is only essential thatt there shall be some rational connection between the fact proved and the ultimate fact presumed, and that the inference of one fact from proof of another shall not be so unreasonable as to be a purely arbitrary mandate. So also, it must not, under guise of regulating the presentation of evidence, operate to preclude the party from the right to present his defence to the main fact thus presumed. If a legislative provision not unreasonable in itself, prescribing a rule of evidence, in either criminal or civil cases, does not shut out from the party affected a reasonable opportunity to submit to the jury in his defence ail the facts bearing upon the issue, there is no ground for holding that due process of law has been denied to him."

The further note of warning sounded by Hughes J. in the case was:

"The power to create presumptions is not a means of escape from constitutional restrictions."

These principles were reaffirmed by the Supreme Court of America in W.D. Manley v. State of Georgia, (1929) 73 Law Ed. 575 and Tot v. United States of America (1943) 87 Law Ed. 1519.

23. What has to be proved Under Section 178-A(1) 6f the Sea Customs Act -- we are still confining ourselves only to gold is that factually the gold was seized in the reasonable belief that it was smuggled gold. From that the presumption is that it is smuggled gold unless the person from whom the gold was seized could prove that it was not smuggled gold. It is not enough if there is connection between the fact to be proved and the presumption that follows:

It must be a rational connection in the words of the learned Judges of the Supreme Court of America, or there must he a reasonable relation, which is the language of our Supreme Court. We have pointed that the reasonable belief that. Section 178-A(1) requires is at best the subjective satisfaction of the Officer who seized the gold. That is what the Supreme Court laid down in , which will bear repetition:

"The only prerequisite for the application of the Section is the subjectivity of the Customs Officer in having reasonable belief that the goods are smuggled."

Mehta's case, also stressed the heavy and onerous duty cast on the innocent purchaser of gold in what is Still an open market in India for gold. These dicta of the Supreme Court in Mehta's case should themselves suffice to hold that there is no reasonable or rational connection between the fact to be proved and the presumption to follow Under Section 178-A(1).

The very severity of the burden imposed by the legislature on the person in possession of gold in many cases it will be a burden impossible of discharge defeats the achievement of the purpose the legislature had in view. The learned counsel for the petitioner pointed out that the enforcement of Section 178-Afl) even bona fide, might well result in a virtual prohibition of trade in gold even in the open market, unless the seller can arm himself with the "pedigree" of every bit of gold offered for sale.

24. If we understood the learned Advocate-General aright, he submitted that the apparent severity of the burden imposed by Section 178-A(1) could be tempered, if the Section were construed on the lines on which the analogous statutory provision in England, Section 259 of the Customs Consolidation Act 1876, was construed by the court of Criminal Appeal in Rex v. Fitzpatrick, 1948, If All ER 769, and he relied on the passage at page 772 of the judgment of Goddard C. J. which ran:

"The onus is put on the defendant when there is a dispute in the proceedings whether duty has been paid or whether the goods were lawfully imported. The obvious reason for this provision is that the facts must be within the knowledge, and often within the exclusive knowledge, of the defendant. If, for instance, it is found that he has dealt in prohibited goods, if he can show that he acquired them in the ordinary course of business obviously he would not be guilty o dealing, in them with intent to avoid the prohibition. He can prove the position and, unless he had to undertake the proof, the Crown would generally have to undertake the proof of a negative."

Apart from the fact that the language of Section 178-A(1) of the Sea Customs Act is not in pari materia with that of Section 259 of the Customs Consolidation Act of 1876, the scope of Section 178-A(1) is really concluded by the observations of the Supreme Court in Mehta's case. which we have already set out.

25. We find ourselves in respectful agreement with what Desai J. said in the unreported decision we have referred to above:

"The burden cast upon the citizen in most cases is virtually impossible of being discharged ..... One can understand a provision where the burden of showing that the gold in question had been purchased in good faith without notice that the same has been smuggled or without reason to believe that the same is smuggled is imposed. But one cannot countenance a burden where he has to establish facts not within his knowledge and which for all practical purposes it might virtually be impossible for him to discharge."

Earlier he observed:

"Under Section 178-A of the Sea Customs Act there is no proofs of any fact from which, a reasonable inference can be drawn that the gold is smuggled. The burden sought to be cast is well-nigh an impossible burden. It subjects citizens to unfairness or hardship. From the subjective reasonable belief of a customs officer that the gold is smuggled an inference cannot reasonably be drawn that the-gold has in fact been smuggled and that an offence in relation thereto has been committed. The object of the legislation in effect is to penalise a citizen for the difficulties experienced by Customs officers in establishing that the gold seized has been smuggled. The inference sought to be drawn is arbitrary and results in the violation of the fundamental rights guaranteed under Article 119(1)(f) and (g) of the Constitution."

26. We uphold the first of the contentions of the learned counsel for the petitioners that Section 178-A(1) of the Sea Customs Act constitutes an unconstitutional infringement of the fundamental right of the petitioners secured by Article 19(1)(f) and 19(1)(g) and is therefore void under Article 13 of the Constitution, and is unenforceable against them.

27. We shall next deal with the second of the contentions of the learned counsel for the petitioners, which would arise for determination if the provisions of Section 178-A(1) of the Sea Customs Act were not void under Article 13 of the Constitution.

28. The learned counsel for the petitioners submitted that before the burden of proof for which Section 178-A(1) provides can be cast on the person from whom the gold was seized, it must be established that the gold was seized in the reasonable belief that it was smuggled gold, and that such reasonable belief on the part of the officer effecting the seizure must precede the seizure.

The other two requirements of Section 178-A(1) were satisfied in this case: (i) the gold was "goods" to which the Section applied, and (ii) it was seized under the Act by Customs Officers. The learned counsel urged that the third requirement was not satisfied. There was no finding, and there was no evidence either to sustain such a finding, that the gold had been seized on 26-6-1956 in the reasonable belief that it was smuggled gold.

29. The learned Advocate-General was, in our opinion, right when he pointed out that the word "smuggled" in Section 178-A(1) in relation to goods was descriptive, to mark off smuggled goods from other kinds of goods which could also be seized under Section 178 among the sections of the Sea Customs Act. He realised that the seizure must be lawful and in good faith.

We are unable, however, to accept as sound his further contention, that the words "reasonable belief" also are, only descriptive of the smuggled goods seized, and that the terms of the Section did not prescribe the existence of a reasonable belief is as a condition precedent to be satisfied before the burden of proof could be imposed on the person from whom the goods (gold) were seized.

Such a result could be achieved only if we delete the words from Section 178-A(1) "in the reasonable belief that they are smuggled goods" and read the Section as "where any goods to which this Section applies are seized under this Act, the burden of proving they are not smuggled goods shall be on the person from whose possession the goods were seized."

Such a reading is not permissible to interpret the plain words of the section. Once again we have to point out that the Supreme Court has held in Mehta's case, that the reasonable belief that the goods were smuggled, though it could only be subjective, was a pre-requisite for the application of Section 178-A(1).

30. We must uphold the contention of the learned counsel for the petitioners that unless it is established that the gold was seized in the reasonable belief that it was smuggled gold. Section 178-A(1) cannot apply. The reasonable belief must be that of the officer who effected the seizure. It is belief and reasonable belief that the Section requires, and not for instance mere suspicion, which is all that Section 178 requires to justify arrest, or Section 180 requires to justify seizure and detention of goods. The reasonable belief that precede or at least coincide with the seizure; formation of tlie belief subsequent to the seizure, however well-founded that belief is, will not satisfy, the requirements of Section 178-A(1).

31. It should be remembered that the 2nd petitioner was intercepted first by the police head constable on duty on 26-6-1956 on suspicion and then handed over to the customs authorities on duty at the railway station. It was the Customs Inspector (Special Division) that seized the gold. All that he recorded at the time of the seizure was:

"Detained 4 (four) blocks of gold, said to weigh about 1000 (one thousand tolas) only from Sri Nandagopal, representative of M/s Nathella Sampath Chetty and Son of No. 177 N. Section C. Bose Road, Madras, for further investigation."

We must emphasise this feature. The seizure was stated to be for further investigation There was no indication there that the Customs Inspector' who seized the gold reasonably believed at that', stage that the gold was smuggled gold. That was the document, which was apparently referred to as "Mahazar" in paragraph 1 of the notice subsequently issued to the second petitioner on 15-1- 1957; and the recitals in that notice do not take us beyond the record of seizure. What was set cut in paragraph 1 of the notice was '

"The gold blocks were seized by the Police, and Customs officers under a mahazar."

That and the earlier recitals in paragraph 1 of the notice were closely followed in setting out in paragraph 1 of the preamble of the order of the Collector dated 11-3-1957 what happened at the time of the seizure on 26-6-1956. Again only the factum of seizure was recorded, without any re ference to the existence of any reasonable belief to warrant that seizure.

32. Thus there was no material upto that stage to warrant any possible finding that factually the officer who effected the seizure on 26-6-1956 did so in the reasonable belief that it was smuggled gold. In summarising the contentions of the second petitioner in the preamble part of the order dated 11-3-1957, the Collector set out in paragraph 8(11) that the second petitioner raised an issue, that

"at no time he had been divulged the reason- able belief which led the Customs Officers to seize the gold."

There was no discussion and no finding recorded by the Collector on that Issue, What the Collector recorded was:

"I observe that police officers acting in exercise of powers conferred upon them by Acts other than the Sea Customs Act discovered that Sri. Nandagopal was carrying approximately 1000 tolas of gold when he arrived at the Madras Central railway station from Bombay on 26-6-1956. The police Officers Informed certain customs officers, who were also at the Central Railway Station. The fact that Sri Nandagopal was not in possession of any documents regarding the purchase of this gold, coupled with knowledge of the extensive traffic in smuggled gold derived from confidential records gave these officers strong reason to believe that the gold was smuggled."

That passage has to be rend with the further explanation the Collector attempted in paragraph 9 of his order :

"I must here emphasise that although I have read the confidential records referred to in the opening paragraph, I am in no way embarrassed by being in possession of secret information from any person claiming to know that the gold is smuggled gold. It was necessary for me to satisfy myself, at a very early stage of the case, that the Customs Officers who seized the gold had reasonable grounds to believe that it was smuggled gold. My decision that the seizure was justified was based solely on general considerations. The point at issue then was simply whether I should be justified in ordering the immediate release of the gold on the grounds that the circumstances were not sufficient to bring Section 178-A of the Sea Customs Act into operation. My decision that the circumstances placed upon Sri Nandagopal the onus of proof that the gold was not smuggled gold did not in any way imply prejudging the situation that exists now, after Sri Nandagopal has been given ample opportunity to discharge that onus."

In paragraph 10 of the order the Collector recorded;

"That the gold which was being transported from Bombay to Madras on 26-6-1956 was discovered in circumstances which raised a strong suspicion that it was smuggled gold has been established beyond all doubt."

We are unable to look upon these passages as embodying a finding, express or implied, that the officer who seized the gold did so in the reasonable belief that it was smuggled gold. The Collector, it should be remembered, recorded:

"My decision that the seizure was justified was based solely upon general considerations."

What these general considerations were we are unable to gather nor is it necessary. It is not the collector's satisfaction that is relevant. What is relevant is, what was the belief of the officer who seized the goods on 26-6-1956 at the time of that seizure. The order of the Collector is really silent on that point.

33. The second of the contentions of the learned counsel for the petitioners lias also to prevail. That by itself is sufficient to set aside the order of the Collector. The real basis for his finding, that it was smuggled gold, was that the second petitioner had not discharged the burden imposed on him by Section 178-A(I). That burden, in the circumstances of this case, should not have been cast on the second petitioner.

34. To dispose of the third of the contentions of the learned counsel for the petitioners which we have set out above, we have to consider the scope and effect of Section 23-A of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, VII of 1947, which runs:

"Without prejudice to the provisions of Section 23 or any other provision contained in this Act, the restrictions imposed by Sub-sections (1) and (2) of Section 8 ....... shall be deemed to have been imposed Under Section 19 of the Sea Customs Act, 1878 (VIII of E878), and all the provisions of that Act shall have effect accordingly except that Section 183 thereof shall have effect as if for the word 'shall' therein the word 'may' were substituted."

Section 23-A was embodied in the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act by the amending Act VIII of 1952, that is, before Section 178-A was incorporated in the-Sea Customs Act, which was only in 1955.

35. The notification in force now, under which the import of gold was prohibited except on the permission granted by the Reserve Bank of India, was issued Under Section 8(1) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act in August 1948. Under Section 23-A of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, that notification is deemed to be a notification issued Under Section 19 of the Sea Customs Act and therefore contravention of that notification becomes punishable Under Section 167(8) of the Sea Customs Act,

The penalty of confiscation imposed Under Section 167(8) would be subject to Section 183, under which the option has to be given to the owner of the goods ordered to be confiscated to pay in lieu of confiscation such fine as the officer thinks fit to specify. Under Section 23A of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, that obligation disappears, and it is left to the discretion of the officer ordering confiscation whether or not to give the option for which Section 183 of the Sea Customs Act provided. It was that statutory power to exercise discretion that the Collector exercised in this case, and he ordered confiscation without the option of a fine The operative portion of his order ran:

"....I must hold the gold to be gold imported into India in contravention of Section 19 of the Sea Customs Act (read with the Notification No. 12(11) PI-48 dated 25-8-1948 (as amended) issued by the Central Government Under Section 8(1) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act and Section 23-A (ibid) and therefore gold liable to confiscation, I confiscate the gold Under Section 167, Clause (8) of the Sea Customs Act and I do not give Sri Nandagopal any option to pay a fine in lieu of confiscation,"

36. The contention of the learned counsel for the petitioners was, that to establish a contravention of the notification of 1948 issued Under Section 8(11 of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, which was no doubt by the legal fiction enacted by Section 23-A of that Act deemed to be a notification issued Under Section 19 of the Sea Customs Act, the Collector was entitled only to apply the provisions of the Sea Customs Act as they stood when Section 23-A of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act was enacted in 1952, and that he was not entitled to invoke the presumption permitted by Section 178-A(1) of the Sea Customs Act, which was incorporated into the Sea Customs Act later in 1955. We have pointed out that it was virtually on the basis that the second petitioner had not discharged the burden of proof, which in the view of the Collector had been laid on the second petitioner by Section 178(1), that the Collector came to the conclusion, that the gold seized from the second petitioner was liable to confiscation Under Section 167(8). Still, the contravention to be established was that of the notification issued Under Section 8(1) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act.

37. The language of Section 23-A of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act bears, in our opinion, acceptance of the plea of the learned Advocate-General, that the provisions of Section 8(1) among others of that Act were incorporated into the Sea Customs Act. It was really the provisions of the Sea Customs Act as they stood in 1952 that were incorporated by reference to that Act into the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act by Section 23-A thereof.

38. In Secretary of State v. Hindustan Cooperative Insurance Society Ltd., I.L.R. 59 Cal 55: (AIR 1931 P.C. 149), the Privy Council laid down at page 64 (of ILR Cal); (at p. 152 of AIR).

"It seems to be no less logical to hold that where certain provisions from an existing Act have been incorporated into a Subsequent Act, no addition to the former Act, which is not expressly made applicable to the subsequent Act, can be deemed to be incorporated in it, at all events if it is possible for the subsequent Act to function effectually without the addition."

The learned Advocate-General drew our attention also to the passage in the judgment of Rajagopala Aiyangar J. in Radliakrishna Chettiar v. State of Madras. 1956-2 Mad LJ 279 at page 285, where the learned Judge referred to the principle laid down by the Privy Council.

39. We uphold also the third of the contentions of the learned counsel for the petitioners. Once the contravention of the notification issued Under Section 8(1) of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act was established, Section 2S-A of that Act no doubt permitted the Collector to exercise his discretion to refuse the option of a fine in lieu of confiscation. To establish that contravention it was not open to the Collector to have recourse to the provisions of Section 178-A(1), which was not one of the provisions of the Sea Customs Act within the scope of Section 23-A of the Foreign Exchange Regu-lation Act.

40. It is true that this contention was not set out in the affidavits filed by the petitioners in these proceedings. We, however, permitted the counsel for the petitioners to advance the additional plea, as it raised only a question of law, which did not involve an investigation of any facts other than those already disclosed. We could not understand the learned Advocate-General to object to our adjudication of this question on the ground that it had not been disclosed in the petitioner's affidavits.

41. The acceptance of the third of the contentions also renders the order of the Collector liable to be set aside.

42. It was never the contention of the learned Advocate-General that, if the invalidity of the impugned order of the Collector was established, it was not liable to be set aside by the issue of a writ of certiorari. We are indeed indebted to him for a clear exposition, with reference to decided cases, of the true scope of the proceedings under the Sea Customs Act in which the impugned order was passed by the Collector,

43. The learned Advocate General pointed out that the restrictions imposed by the Sea Customs Act and the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act on the import of gold did not themselves constitute revenue or penal laws, despite the use of the words "offence" and "punishment" in Section 167(8) of the Sea Customs Act among others. In the decision of the House of Lords in Regazzoni v. K. C. Sethia Ltd., 1957-3 All ER 286, Lord Reid said at page 293 :

"The Indian law which prohibited exports to South Africa does not appear to me to be a revenue or penal law any more than was tbe law of exchange control considered by this House in Kahler v. Midland Bank Ltd., 1949-2 All ER 621."

Penalties including confiscation imposed Under Section 167(8) of the Sea Customs Act did not constitute them criminal proceedings. They are civil proceedings see Commissioners of Customs and Excise v. Sokolow's Trustee 1954-2 QBD 336, where Hilbery J. had to consider the position under the corresponding provisions of the Customs Law Consolidation Act, 1876. The sanctions are civil in their nature, as in the analogous case Under Section 28-of the Income-tax Act seeSivagaminatha Moopa-nar and Sons v. Income-tax Officer II Circle, Ma-durai, 1952-2 Mad LJ 477: ((S) AIR 1958 Mad l), the relevant observations are at page 482 (of Mad LJ): (at pp. 4-5 of AIR).

The position in America is the same - See Helvering v. Mitchell, (1938) 82 Law Ed 917, which refers among others to the earlier decision of that Court in Passavant v. United States, (1893) 37 Law Ed 426. Such were apparently well-founded contentions of the learned Advocate General, but it may not be necessary to pronounce our acceptance of these contentions for the disposal of this case.

44. The decision arrived at by the appropriate Customs Officer in such proceedings to impose the penalties prescribed, for instance, by Section 167(8) of the Sea Customs Act, is quasi-judicial in its scope. That was what was laid down in a number of decisions of this court, and that was reaffirmed by the Supreme Court in its recent and as yet unre-ported decision in Shewpujanrai Indrasanrai Ltd. v. Collector of Customs, (Civil Appln. No. 256 of 1954) (Since ), where S. K. Das J. said;

"In F.N. Roy v. Collector of Customs Calcutta, 1957 SCA 764: ((S) AIR 1957 SC 6-18), this court held that the imposition of a fine Under Section 167(8) of the Sea Customs Act was really a quasi-judicial act and in the later decision of Leo Roy Frey v. Superintendent, District Jail, Amritsar, , it has been held that in imposing the confiscation and penalties under the Sea Customs Act, the Collector acts judicially. Therefore the view that an order of confiscation or penalty under the Sea Customs Act is a mere administrative or executive act is no longer tenable."

Such an order is liable to correction by the issue of a writ of certiorari.

45. We have held that the order of the Collector dated 11-3-1957 was based upon Section 178-A(1) of the Sea Customs Act. which is invalid and inoperative, We have also upheld the other two contentions of the learned counsel for the petitioners, on each of which the order of the Collector is liable to be set aside. We therefore allow W. P. No. 384 of 1957, confirm the rule nisi and direct the issue of writ of certiorari to set aside the order of the Collector dated 11-3-1957.

46. Though the relief asked for by the petitioners in W. P. No. 660 of 1958, is the return of the seized gold to the petitioners, what the petitioners are entitled to is only a writ cf mandamus to the Collector to hear and determine the questions at issue afresh without any reference to Section 178-A of the Sea Customs Act. A writ of mandamus will issue to that effect.

47. The petitioners will be entitled to their costs in W. P. No. 384 of 1957. Counsel's fee Rs. 750. There will be no order as to costs in W. P. No. 660 of 1958.


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