Gowri Shankar, Member (T)
1. After hearing both sides on the application for out of turn hearing, we have decided to take up the appeal for disposal today.
2. The appeal is against the order of the Commissioner of Customs, Kandla revoking under the Regulation 21 of the Customs House Agents Licensing Regulation, 1984, licence issued to the appellant to function as the Customs House Agent in Kandla Customs House.
3. The notice proposing the revocation of the licence which was issued to the appellant contained five articles of charge sheet. Annexure IV to the notice listed witnesses whom he proposed to rely in support of these charges. Annexure-III is statement of these witnesses as among the evidence proposed to be relied upon. The appellant denied every one of the charges in its reply, and the Asstt. Commissioner of Customs in the Customs House was therefore appointed to conduct an enquiry contemplated in Regulation 23.
4. From the report of the enquiry officer, its conclusion that only one out of these 11 witnesses has been exempted by him that is, Subhash Sethi, a director of the appellant. The report does not indicate whether Subhash Sethi was made available to the appellant for cross-examination. It is contended that he was not. The enquiry officer does not appear to have considered necessary either to examine the remaining ten witnesses or offer them for cross-examination. He has in effect relied upon the statements that were tendered in the course of the preliminary examination by the Customs House which resulted in the issue of notice proposing revocation of the licence, noting that none of them have retracted from the revocation which they made in these statements.
5. The Regulations prescribed a detail elaborate procedure for enquiring into a proposal to revoke the licence. This procedure is detailed in Regulation 23. Sub-regulation (4) of this Regulation requires the enquiry officer to record his reasons in the event that he declined to exempt any person that is not relevant or material. No such reason is forthcoming in the order of the enquiry officer. Sub-regulation also entitles the customs house agent of examining the person exempted. In effect, the conclusion of the Asstt. Commissioner, who conducted the enquiry has rendered the notice, and therefore the enquiry, meaningless. If the Commissioner who issued the notice felt it was necessary in order to sustain the charges cite ten persons as witnesses, solid reasons ought to be available why not one of these was required to be examined. No such reason is forthcoming. There, therefore has not been a proper enquiry of the kind provided in the Regulations. The order of the Commissioner accepting the result of this enquiry therefore has to be set aside. The matter has to be enquired into in accordance with the Regulations.
6. The appeal is allowed. Impugned order set aside. The Commissioner shall again appoint an enquiry officer who shall conduct enquiry strictly in accordance with the provisions of the regulation. The licence of the appellant was suspended by order dated 26-2-1998, and the order cancelling his licence has been passed nearly two years later, in June, 2000. Such delay is unconscionable in cases where the livelihood and the business goodwill of a customs house agent will be badly affected by not being able to do business. We therefore expect that the enquiry will be completed, and final orders passed, not more than 4 months from today. The advocate for the appellant undertakes on behalf of his client he will not obstruct the proceedings of the Commissioner. If this time limit is not adhered to by the Commissioner without sound reason, the appellant will be at liberty to approach this tribunal for revocation of the suspension.