Valuation of imported goods by Customs Officer.

Customs Valuation (Determination of Value of Imported Goods) Rules, 2007: Rule 4 to 9 and 12:

The requirements of Rule 12, therefore, can be summarised as under:

(a) The proper officer should have reasonable doubt as to the transactional value on account of truth or accuracy of the value declared in relation to the imported goods.

(b) Proper officer must ask the importer of such goods further information which may include documents or evidence;

(c) On receiving such information or in the absence of response from the importer, the proper officer has to apply his mind and decide whether or not reasonable doubt as to the truth or accuracy of the value so declared persists.

(d) When the proper officer does not have reasonable doubt, the goods are cleared on the declared value.

(e) When the doubt persists, sub-rule (1) to Rule 3 is not applicable and transaction value is determined in terms of Rules 4 to 9 of the 2007 Rules.

(f) The proper officer can raise doubts as to the truth or accuracy of the declared value on ‘certain reasons’ which could include the grounds specified in clauses (a) to (f) in clause (iii) of the Explanation.

(g) The proper officer, on a request made by the importer, has to furnish and intimate to the importer in writing the grounds for doubting the truth or accuracy of the value declared in relation to the imported goods. Thus, the proper officer has to record reasons in writing which have to be communicated when requested.

(h) The importer has to be given opportunity of hearing before the proper officer finally decides the transactional value in terms of Rules 4 to 9 of the 2007 Rules.

16. Proper officer can therefore reject the declared transactional value based on ‘certain reasons’ to doubt the truth or accuracy of the declared value in which event the proper officer is entitled to make assessment as per Rules 4 to 9 of the 2007 Rules. What is meant by the expression “grounds for doubting the truth or accuracy of the value declared” has been explained and elucidated in clause (iii) of Explanation appended to Rule 12 which sets out some of the conditions when the ‘reason to doubt’ exists. The instances mentioned in clauses (a) to (f) are not exhaustive but are inclusive for there could be other instances when the proper officer could reasonably doubt the accuracy or truth of the value declared.

The choice of words deployed in Rule 12 of the 2007 Rules are significant and of much consequence. The Legislature, we must agree, has not used the expression “reason to believe” or “satisfaction” or such other positive terms as a pre-condition on the part of the proper officer. The expression “reason to believe” which would have required the proper officer to refer to facts and figures to show existence of positive belief on the undervaluation or lower declaration of the transaction value. The expression “reason to doubt” as a sequitur would require a different threshold and examination. It cannot be equated with the requirements of positive reasons to believe, for the word ‘doubt’ refers to un-certainty and irresolution reflecting suspicion and apprehension. However, this doubt must be reasonable i.e. have a degree of objectivity and basis/foundation for the suspicion must be based on ‘certain reasons’.

Proof beyond ‘reasonable doubt’ is certainly not the requirement under proviso to Section 14 of the Act and Rule 12 of the 2007 Rules, albeit the above quote draws a distinction between a simple doubt and a doubt which is reasonable. In the context of the proviso to Section 14 read with Rule 12 and clause (iii) of Explanation to the 2007 Rules, the doubt must be reasonable and based on ‘certain reasons’. The proper officer must record ‘certain reasons’ specified in (a) to (f) or similar grounds in writing at the second stage before he proceeds to discard the declared value and decides to determine the same by proceeding sequentially in accordance with Rules 4 to 9 of the 2007 Rules. It refers to a doubt which the proper officer possesses even after the importer has been asked to furnish further information including documents and evidence during the preliminary enquiry to clear his doubt about the truth and accuracy of the value declared. Therefore, there has to be a preliminary enquiry by the proper officer in which the importer must be given an opportunity for clarification of the doubts of the officer by furnishing of documents and evidence as to the accuracy or truth of the value declared. It is only in case where the doubt of the proper officer persists after conducting examination of information including documents or on account of non-furnishing of information that the procedure for further investigation and determination of value in terms of Rules 4 to 9 would come into operation and would be applicable. Reasonable doubt will exist if the doubt is reasonable and for ‘certain reasons’ and not fanciful and absurd. A doubt to justify detailed enquiry under the proviso to Section 14 read with Rule 12 should not be based on initial apprehension, be imaginary or a mere perception not founded on reasonable and ‘certain’ material.

It should be based and predicated on grounds and material in the form of ‘certain reasons’ and not mere ipse dixit. Subjecting imports to detailed enquiry on mere suspicion because one is distrustful and unsure without reasonable and certain reasons would be contrary to the scheme and purpose behind the provisions which ensure quick and expeditious clearance of imported goods.

Customs Act, 1962; Section 18:

On interpreting Section 18 of the Act, it is held that when there is a dispute between the customs authorities and the importer as regards the valuation of the imported goods, on satisfaction of the conditions enumerated in sub-section (1), the authorities should make provisional assessment of customs duty under Section 18 of the Act. This expedites clearance, pending final adjudication on merits which may take time. This is also the mandate of the Board Circular No.38/2016 dated 22nd August, 2016. Any insistence and compulsion by the authorities that the importer should disclaim and forgo his statutory right under Section 18 of the Act would not be correct. Neither would it be right to reject the valuation as declared by the importer without reasonable doubt for certain reasons.

As per sub Rule (2) of Rule 12, the proper officer when required must intimate to the importer in writing the grounds for doubting the truth or accuracy of the value declared. The said mandate of sub-Rule (2) of Rule 12 cannot be ignored or waived. Formation of opinion regarding reasonable doubt as to the truth or accuracy of the valuation and communication of the said grounds to the importer is mandatory, subterfuge to by-pass and circumvent the statutory mandate is unacceptable. Formation of belief and recording of reasons as to reasonable doubt and communication of the reasons when required is the only way and manner in which the proper officer in terms of Rule 12 can proceed to make assessment under Rules 4 to 9 after rejecting the transaction value as declared.

The mandate to record reasons at the second stage of enquiry is not expressly stipulated, albeit it has been read by us by implication in Rule 12. Being conscious that this mandate if applied to past cases would possibly lead to complications and difficulties, we would invoke the doctrine of prospective application with the direction that the past cases will be decided on a case to case basis, depending upon the factual matrix and considerations like whether the importer has asked for ‘certain reasons’, whether the reasons were not communicated, whether ‘certain reasons’ can be deciphered from the assessment/valuation order, whether misdescription or false declaration was apparent, etc.

Facts of the case:

the appellants had declared value of the aluminium scrap as Rs.81.31 per kg, albeit the contemporaneous import data in the form of different bills of entry had indicated aluminium scrap values between Rs. 83.26 to Rs. 120.897 per kg. The said portion of the order refers to at least four bills of entries declaring assessable value of less than Rs. 85 per kg. Interestingly, the order in original also records that the imported goods being aluminium scrap was not a homogeneous commodity and therefore, cannot be evaluated on the basis of the samples or lab testing. Further, the order holds that it was very difficult to find any identical/ similar goods imported in India having same chemical and physical composition and that the values of aluminium scrap identical/similar to the imported goods in nature and specification were not available. Without commenting on correctness of the said statements, we would observe that the aforesaid reasoning for rejection of the transactional value, would not meet the mandate of Section 14 and the Rules as elucidated in M/s Sanjivini Non- Ferrous Trading Pvt. Ltd. (supra) wherein it was held that the transaction value mentioned in the bill of entry should not be discarded unless there are contrary details of contemporaneous imports or other material indicating and serving as corroborative evidence of import at or near the time of import which would justify rejection of the declared value and enhancement of the price declared in the bill of entry.

[Source: Century Metal Recycling Pvt. Ltd. vs Union Of India on 17 May, 2019]
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