The Customs Act, 1962 empowers the Central Government to make certain Rules and Regulations to carry out the purposes of the Act on the condition that they must be placed before the Parliament within a certain time. The legislators rarely suggest any changes to such sub-ordinate legislations. The general impression is that there is a finality to what the Government does and that the legislators do not apply their minds to what is put before them.
Recently, however, the Parliamentary Committee on Subordinate Legislation recommended certain changes to the Handling of Cargo in Customs Areas Regulations, 2009 and the Government thought fit to accept the recommendations and make necessary changes in the Regulations. In fact, it is in pursuance of the recommendations of the Public Accounts Committee (2005-06) in its twenty-seventh report for formulating appropriate legal provisions and guidelines to control the activities of custodians, that a new sub - section (2) to section 141 of the Customs Act, 1962 was inserted and the Government framed these Regulations in the first place.
The regulations provide for the manner, in which the imported goods and export goods shall be received, stored, delivered or otherwise handled in a customs area and prescribe the responsibilities of persons engaged in such activities. The regulations apply to all ‘Customs cargo service providers’ (CCSPs) i.e. to custodians holding custody of import/export goods and handling such goods and all persons working on behalf of such custodians such as fork lift or material handling equipment operators, etc., and also consolidators or break bulk agents and other persons handling imported/export goods in any capacity in a customs area
The changes now made to the Regulations take away the powers of the Commissioner of Customs to grant relaxation or exemption from requirements on safety and security of premises to the Custodians or Cargo Service Providers. Keeping in view the paramount importance of overall safety and security of imported/export goods, detailed guidelines have now been prescribed to ensure that suitable arrangements are in place for safety and security of premises relating to imported or export goods. Commissioners of Customs are required to ensure that provisions pertaining to safety and security of premises are complied with strictly at the time of appointment of CCSP and monitored thereafter. Even the CCSP appointed earlier have to comply with the new guidelines.
The requirement of publishing a Schedule of Charges associated with various services in relation to imported or export goods in the Customs area and its display at prominent places including web page or website of the CCSP has also been made mandatory by making suitable amendments in the Regulations. All CCSPs have to provide free of cost or rent, fully furnished office accommodation, EDI service centre along with basic amenities and facilities, besides providing residential accommodation and transport facilities to the Customs staff. All CCSPs have to indemnify the Customs against possible liabilities arising on account of damages caused or loss suffered on imported or export goods, due to accident, damage, deterioration, destruction or any other unnatural cause during their receipt, storage, delivery, dispatch or otherwise handling.
It is heartening to note that the legislators take note of what is put before them. Hopefully, they will subject to severe scrutiny, the proposals for retrospective amendments that create unexpected liabilities for law abiding assessees.