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Noticee entitled to fair adjudication, says High Court

Two petitioners say evidence to establish their defence not available

Taking note of the fact that two petitioners accused of trying to smuggle gold and electronic gadgets into India in 2019 were denied access to a vital piece of evidence – CCTV footage collected at Tiruchi airport – to establish their defence, the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court observed that their right to fair adjudication had been violated.

The court was hearing the petitions filed by Mohammed Haroon and Shaik Mohammed, seeking a direction to the authorities to allow re-export of the gold ornaments and electronic gadgets. They claimed that they had intended to declare the contents of their baggage to the Customs officials and pay duty. But they were intercepted by Customs officials and the goods were seized.

The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) sleuths said they received information that passengers arriving at Tiruchi by four flights from Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, Sharjah and Singapore would be attempting to smuggle goods.

The information turned out to be well-founded as 128 of the 640 passengers of the flights were detained and undeclared gold and electronic gadgets seized from them. From the two petitioners, gold weighing 200 gm each and electronic gadgets worth ₹40 lakh were seized.

Adjudication proceedings were initiated against them. While the DRI said the accused were intercepted and apprehended, the duo sought CCTV footage from Tiruchi airport. Their request was declined. They wrote to the DRI stating that if the CCTV footage was verified, their contention would be proved.

The authorities, however, submitted that the CCTV footage from 2019 had been erased. Justice G.R. Swaminathan took cognisance of the submission and observed that the airport authority was the limb of the State and the DRI could not wash its hands of the responsibility.

The court said where the fundamental right of the noticees to fair adjudication had been violated, the adjudication proceedings could not be allowed to determine their guilt. It could continue only for the limited purpose of determining whether the goods could be allowed to be re-exported.

The court directed the authorities concerned to pass the order within four weeks after hearing the petitioners. However, it clarified that it was not giving a clean chit to the petitioners. There was every possibility of their being ‘kuruvis’ (regular carriers of smuggled goods). Suspicion was one thing while proof was another, and it was the prosecution that had to cover the distance, the judge said.

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