P. Ramakrishnan, J.
1. The petitioner in this writ petition under Article 226 of the Constitution imported in three consignments in 1963 items of ball and roller bearing of more than 51 mm. bore diameter. Bills of entry therefor were presented to the respondents, the Assistant Collector of Customs, Appraising department in the Customs House, Madras on 14th June, 1963 and 10th September, 1963. The respondent assessed the petitioner to customs duty provisionally on those items on 20th August, 1963 and 11th October, 1963, on the footing that the ball and roller bearings fell under item 72 (38) of the First Schedule of the Indian Customs Tariff. The above item refers to
ball and roller bearings for use with shafting of more than 51 mm. diameter and adapter bearings not otherwise specified, which are specially designed for use exclusively with power-driven machinery and parts of such bearings not otherwise specified.
2. At the same time, the respondent took an indemnity bond from the petitioner for a value of Rs. 25,000, towards any possible difference in the value of the goods imported. The petitioner thereafter took delivery of the goods and sold them to parties.
3. In the meantime, relying on an administrative direction issued by the Central Board of Revenue, New Delhi, on 18th November, 1963, the Collector of Customs, Madras, issued public notice No. 173/64 on 14th September, 1964, regarding the. assessment of rates of import duty on ball bearings. Under that circular, ball bearings above 51 mm. bore diameter should be assessed under item 75 (12) of the First Schedule to the Indian Customs Tariff. That item deals with
articles other than rubber tyres and tubes, batteries and such other components as are specified in items 72 (35), 75 (9), 75 (10), 75 (11), 75 (I4), 75 (15), 75 (16) and 75 (18-b) (ii) adapted for use as parts and accessories of motor vehicles other than motor cycles and motor scooters.
4. The petitioner alleges that relying upon this administrative circular, the respondent revised the assessment of duty in respect of the aforesaid goods, classifying them under item 75 (12) and levying a higher percentage of duty at 55% as against the 11 % earlier levied. The authorities asked him to pay the difference which came to a sum of Rs. 35,710 and odd.
5. For attacking this levy, it is first of all urged by the learned Counsel appearing for the petitioner, in this writ petition, Sri V. K. Thiruvenkatachari, that the Assistant Collector of Customs as well as the other authorities who are empowered to hear appeals as well as revisions under the Customs Act are exercising quasi-judicial powers when they levy customs duty on the goods imported by an importer. They will have to arrive at an independent judgment regarding the correct item of the Schedule which will apply to a given article and in the exercise of such a judgment they cannot be influenced by administrative directions issued by the Central Board of Revenue. It is urged that in this case, what induced the respondent to change the earlier classification made during the provisional assessment to the later classification, was the intervening direction from the Central Board of Revenue issued on 18th November, 1963, subsequent to the provisional assessment . The Supreme Court in its decision in Orient Paper Mills Ltd. v. The Union of India (1969) 1 S.C.J. 110, expressly deprecated such a practice and held that any decision affected by such an administrative direction is vitiated. The Supreme Court observed:
That apart, we are clearly of the opinion that even if the question of the legality of the direction issued by the Board (Central Board of Revenue) had not been taken before the authorities under the Act (Customs Act) as that direction completely vitiates the proceedings and makes a mockery of the judicial process, we think we ought to consider the legality of that direction. For the reason already mentioned we hold that that direction was invalid and the same has vitiated the proceedings before the Collector as well as the Government.
6. In the present case, the respondent does not deny the fact that the circular of the Central Board of Revenue influenced the decision. In fact, in a letter dated 22nd September, 1965, the respondent has written to the petitioner saying:
You are informed that as per the recent orders of the Government of India, Tariff Rulings, though issued after the provisional assessment of the bills of entry have to be applied at the time of finanalising them. Accordingly, the Tariff ruling incorporated in P. W. No. 173 of 1964 has been applied to the subject cases while finally assessing them.
7. Learned Counsel appearing for the respondent urged that the Supreme Court decision has reference to the orders of the Collector in Appeal under Section 128 and of the Government at the stage of the further revision, and that only the authorities at the above stages are required to act in a quasi-judicial manner, but the same requirement may not apply to the initial assessing authority, viz., the Assistant Collector of Customs. I find that the Customs Act does not make any such distinction about the different stages. Whether it is before the original assessing authority or before the appellate authority or the revisional authority the question for consideration is as to the proper way in which a subject has to be assessed by the authorities charged with the duty of assessment, after applying the relevant provision of the statute to the individual cases, and at all these stages they are exercising quasi-judicial powers. Therefore, the Supreme Court decision will apply equally to the assessment before the first authority, viz., the Assistant Collector of Customs. Therefore on this preliminary ground of objection itself, the present order of the respondent cannot be sustained and that authority has to reconsider the case of the petitioner's imports independent of the Central Board of Revenue's directions, and using his own individual judgment.
8. Before parting with the case, I will refer to the other contention raised, by the learned Counsel for the petitioner. It is not that the provisional assessment must he deemed as complete so far as the proper classification is concerned, the bond being taken only for the purpose of verifying the invoices for determining the correct value of the imported articles. Therefore, the subsequent assessment, though, classed as final assessment, is only a review of the earlier completed assessment and the provisions of the Customs Act relating to review of earlier decisions, should be satisfied before a revised assessment could be validly made. In view of my decision to set aside the assessment on the first point, it is not necessary to give a decision in this writ petition on the second point. It will be for the concerned authorities to consider this question also at the time when they deal with the question of the proper assessment on the imported items.
9. The writ petition is allowed and the order of the respondent is quashed as prayed for. It will be open to the respondent to deal with the case of the petitioner afresh under the law and in accordance with the foregoing observations. No order as to costs.