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Slapped with import duty on air gun,shooter trades fire with Customs

member of Maharashtra rifle association says air gun is exempt from import duty,accuses customs of harassment and seeks compensation

Written by Srinath Rao |
August 6, 2013 1:18:16 am

A Haryana resident,who is also a member of Maharashtra Rifle Association,sent a legal notice to the Customs last month,a year after he was forced at the Mumbai airport to pay import duty on a .177-calibre air rifle,an item that was made duty-free by a Customs’ notification in 2005.

Amitoj Singh has argued that though air guns and pistols do not come under the purview of the Arms Act and are exempted from import duty,he was made to pay Rs 30,000 (35% of its price) as import duty and assured the amount would be refunded.

Singh says he took the legal recourse after the Customs refused to refund the amount citing separate notifications and instead sent him a notice in November last year asking him to pay the balance 65% duty.

The Director General of Foreign Trade had,in 2005,made the import of air guns duty-free to encourage shooting. Also,acting on a petition by National Rifle Association of India,the the Supreme Court had last year stayed a Delhi High Court order classifying air guns as fire arms.

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On January 21,2012,Singh landed at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA),where he purchased the rifle. He was,however,told he had to obtain an NOC from Mumbai police before he could be returned the weapon. “They wanted to know if the air gun could be converted into a fire arm. The .177-calibre air gun is used only for target practice. A few days later,I went to the office of Mumbai Police Commissioner and was told that no such NOC was required,” he said.

“Finally,I paid 35% import duty on February 9 and got my rifle back without the NOC. I was convinced they were only trying to harass me. I was also assured I could obtain a refund by sending them the receipt of the duty paid. In the following months,I kept writing to various Customs officials,but instead of refunding the import duty,they argued that air rifles were not exempt from duty under their rules,” he said.

In an e-mail that Singh received from Customs on April 12,2012,he was told that air rifles were classified as fire arms. “As per Baggage Rules,1998,free allowance is not applicable to fire arms. The air rifles/guns are covered by the definition of term ‘fire arms’ as defined under Section 2(e) of The Arms Act,1959,” reads the e-mail.

“The e-mail clearly contradicts a stay order issued by the Supreme Court on classifying air rifles and pistols as firearms. They (Customs) are in contempt of court,” Singh said.

The e-mail also stated that the air rifles could have been allowed in without duty had Singh imported them through cargo or courier. “In the past,I have imported air guns through the Indira Gandhi International Aiport in Delhi and the Customs cleared it. Nowhere in the 2005 notification is a mode of baggage specified. Indian shooters who travel abroad for competitions routinely carry their air guns in their baggage,” he said.

Late last year,Singh was informed he was now liable to pay the full duty. “They sent me subsequent reminders this year,all the while ignoring my objections. In my letter on July 5,I gave them 15 days to refund the duty failing which I would initiate legal proceedings,” he said.

Singh has also demanded compensation of Rs 5 lakh for harassment as well as the refund amount with interest.

A Customs officer said they were unaware of the notice. “No such notice has been received so far. However,a number of such matters are being heard in the Bombay High Court. The question of imposing import duty on air guns is sub judice,” said the officer.

Scribe faced

similar ordeal

A Chennai-based journalist went through a similar ordeal at Bangalore airport while importing an air gun in August last year.

“The Customs asked me to produce an NOC from police even though it is not required. The officer wanted me to be present in Bangalore on a specified date with original copies of my Chennai Rifle Club membership and the invoice of the purchase. The Bangalore airport follows a very different yardstick. They tell some people to scan and mail documents while others are asked to be physically present,” said 31-year-old Ebenezer Stephen Duraiappah.

He was finally given his gun back a week later after having to pay Rs 500 in warehouse charges.

srinath.rao@expressindia.com

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