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Importer has ‘no-fault’ liability to pay

Importer has ‘no-fault’ liability to pay
The Supreme Court has ruled that a port trust can demand demurrage and other charges from the importer even if the entity was unable to clear goods for no fault or negligence on its part. Even if the Customs authorities had detained the goods, which action was later found to be illegal, the charge must be paid. The court stated so while setting aside the judgment of the Bombay High Court in the case, Mumbai Port Trust vs Shri Lakshmi Steels. The court said neither can any shipping line involved in such an instance be burdened with the detention charge, nor the Customs department. The judgment explained: “The Customs authorities can be directed to pay the demurrage/detention charges only when it has proved that their action is absolutely mala fide or is such a gross abuse of power that the officials should be asked to compensate the importer for the extra burden which he has to bear. Even if an importer feels that it has been unjustly dealt with, it must clear the goods by paying the charges due and then claim reimbursement from the Customs authority.” In this case, the high court had stated that the action of two officials was “not bona fide, if not strictly mala fide.” But the remark did not go beyond that. The high court was held to be wrong in directing the Customs authorities to pay detention charges to the shipping lines.
The  Business Standard, New Delhi, 14th August 2017

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