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Bombay High Court allows export of containers of onions, booked before ban notification

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New Delhi (ILNS): The Bombay High Court approved a petition filed against the decision of the Central government to ban the export of onions. Mumbai Customs officials have been instructed to allow the export of 108 containers of onions for which shipping bills had been generated prior to 10.28 pm on September 14.

The Division Bench of Justice Ujjal Bhuyan and Justice Abhay Ahuja passed this order after hearing the writ petition filed by the Horticulture Produce Exporters Association challenging the notification issued by Director General of Foreign Trade, under the Union Ministry of Commerce and Industry prohibiting the export of all varieties of onions with immediate effect.

Senior advocate Darius Shroff, counsel for the Petitioner association has submitted that the government’s notification regarding ban on onion exports came in the evening of September 14, 2020.  The onion of the Petitioners reached the custom parking plaza of Mumbai in the morning. Their shipping bill was also generated. Yet the customs authorities did not complete the export process arbitrarily. This is contrary to the provisions of the Customs Act. Because the shipping bill has its own importance in law. It is not an empty formality, he further added.

The counsel on behalf of the Customs authorities contended  that no valid  documents have been placed on record in the Petition which proves that the containers were parked in the parking plaza, including any gate slip issued which show the entry of the containers.

The High Court, while considering the arguments observed that “petitioners have made a specific and serious allegation of insider knowledge of the customs authorities during the morning hours of 14.09.2020 about a notification to be issued prohibiting export of onions and acting upon such insider information did not accept any container of onions during the whole day of 14.09.2020, the same has not been specifically denied by respondent Nos. 4, 5 and 6 in the three affidavits.” 

The Court held that the generation of shipping bill is not an empty formality. “It has a definite meaning assigned to it under the 2019 Regulations. It sets in motion the process of export of goods. The 2019 Regulations only reinforce the sanctity attached to a shipping bill.” 

11“In continuation of our order dated 25.09.2020, export of onions in respect of the shipping bills which were presented and generated prior to 22:28:11 hours on 14.09.2020 shall be allowed subject to the clarification given by the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs in its communication dated 18.09.2020,” ordered by the High Court.

The matter is posted for final hearing in the first week of December 2020.

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