The Calcutta High Court on Wednesday quashed summons to Rujira Naroola, wife of Trinamool Congress MP Abhishek Banerjee, and her sister by the Customs authorities on the ground of procedural lapses.
Setting aside the summons, Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj observed that when a statute provides that the power to summon a person under provisions of the Customs Act must be exercised in a certain manner, then such power has to be wielded in the same manner and none other.
The court said that in this case, the additional commissioner, Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) at NSCBI Airport here, who issued the summons dated March 26, 2019, to petitioners Naroola and her sister Menka Gambhir, is not the inquiry officer and he has not formed any opinion regarding attendance of the petitioners.
The additional commissioner, AIU, has only directed the petitioners to appear before another additional commissioner (airport administration), Customs, who is also not the inquiry officer, the court said.
However, the court also said that there are “two contested and irreconcilable version of an event” and the customs authorities are free to inquire into the alleged “violation of the Customs Act by the writ petitioners effecting loss of government revenue”, but to the extent which occurred inside the ‘Customs Airport’ as defined in the Customs Act.
Naroola, who is a citizen of Thailand, had arrived at the city airport in the early hours of March 16 from Bangkok and was allegedly selected randomly for checking by the Customs officials at the immigration counter.
She filed a complaint with the NSCBI Airport police station on the same day alleging that she had been deliberately harassed and misbehaved with by the officials.
The Customs authorities also filed a complaint with the same police station stating that they were prevented from examination of the baggage of Naroola and her companion Menka Gambhir.
The Customs authorities alleged that they were voluntarily and intentionally obstructed by the two passengers, local police personnel and other unknown persons from exercising their power as conferred under the Customs Act.
Naroola and Gambhir had moved the high court seeking to cancel or rescind the summons and for an order prohibiting the Customs authorities for initiating enquiry under provisions of the Customs Act against them in connection with a complaint filed by Customs officials at NSCBI Airport police station on March 22 last year.
Noting that the police has acted upon the complaint by taking magisterial approval for probing the matter, Justice Bharadwaj directed that the Customs lost its jurisdiction to inquire any further in this regard and is restrained from making a parallel inquiry.
Abhishek Banerjee, the nephew of Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee and an MP, had on March 23, 2019, denied reports in a section of media that two kg gold was seized from his wife Rujira Naroola’s baggage when she landed in the city from Bangkok on March 26.
Terming the allegations as baseless and politically motivated, Abhishek Banerjee said in a press conference that she was “not carrying even two grams of gold” or any other dutiable or objectionable item in their baggage.
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