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Bombay HC directs customs to auction ‘antique’ Thai idol to know its true value after man refuses to pay duty

The customs asked the man to pay duty on the idol which they deemed was an antique, valued at Rs 5 lakh. The tourist claimed that he had bought it from a street vendor for Rs 1,250 and hence the demand from the customs was not maintainable.

Written by Omkar Gokhale | Mumbai |
Updated: September 23, 2021 2:34:33 pm
The high court suggested putting the idol, with four heads and eight arms, up for auction, which would attract collectors who could discern whether the idol was an antique item. (Express)

The Bombay High Court recently asked the customs department to put up a metal idol/statue for auction which was brought by an Indian tourist who had been on a trip to Bangkok. The tourist approached the high court after the customs asked him to pay duty on the idol which they deemed was an antique, valued at Rs 5 lakh.

The tourist, however, claimed that he had bought it from a street vendor for Rs 1,250 and hence the demand from the customs was not maintainable.

The high court suggested putting the idol, with four heads and eight arms, up for auction, which would attract collectors who could discern whether the idol was an antique item.

A division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice G S Kulkarni on September 21 was hearing a plea by Adi B Dubhash, a resident of Napean Sea road, challenging July 2014 and September 2019 orders passed by customs authorities, confiscating and subjecting to payment of duty and penalty for a metal idol/statue imported by petitioner not declaring it as an antique article.

The petitioner, through advocates Gautam and Ashwin Ankhad, submitted he purchased four metal idols from a street market of Bangkok in 2002 and customs authorities cleared three of them as ‘non-antique.’ However, the idol in question, which was purchased for Rs. 1250 from a street vendor in Bangkok was confiscated and was valued by customs authorities at Rs 5 lakh and imposed duty and penalty, and the same was arbitrary.

Ankhad told the bench that there was no facility to do radiocarbon dating in Mumbai, to test whether the idol was an antique and Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) is not an appropriate authority who would declare the age of the said idol.

Ankhad said that while the customs declared it as an antique item, the Fine Arts and Ancient Department, Thailand had certified that it was not an article of antiquity.

Senior advocate Pradeep Jetly for customs said that the Indian Archeology Department had intimated to the respondent authority that the subject idol/statue was suspected to be an antique item. The idol was fixed at Rs 5 lakh based on this input, he added.

The bench further noted that the ‘complexion of the proceedings takes a different turn’ when Ankhad, on instructions from his client stated that he would like to donate the said idol to the customs department, so as to realise the duty or penalty.

“Considering the fair gesture of the petitioner, we are of the opinion that in the peculiar facts of the case, it would be appropriate, that the revenue auctions the subject idol/statue, by appointing an appropriate agency for such purpose and sell the idol/statue in a public auction,” the HC noted.

After the petitioner said that he did not have any objection to an auction by the revenue department, the court permitted it to take steps to auction the idol and complete all formalities for the same within three months from the date of order.

“The revenue department would be free to arrive at an appropriate reserve price,” the court said and asked it to place the result of the auction before it during the next date of hearing after three months.

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