Supreme Court agrees to list for hearing PIL alleging duty evasion in exporting iron ore as pellets

Supreme Court, iron ore, iron pellet exports, duty evasion, N V Ramana, a s bopanna, hima kohli

The Supreme Court on Wednesday agreed to list for hearing the PIL seeking a direction to the CBI to register an FIR and probe the alleged duty evasion by some companies in exporting iron ore in pellet form to China since 2015. A bench comprising Chief Justice N V Ramana and Justices A S Bopanna and Hima Kohli took note of the submissions of a lawyer who has filed the PIL in his personal capacity.

“The export of iron ore and the duty evasion is going on and losses are being caused to the state exchequer,” alleged advocate petitioner M L Sharma.

The bench said, “we will list it.”

The top court, on January 15, had issued notice to the Centre and others on the plea of the advocate.

Later on September 24, it sought response from the Centre and others while issuing notice on another similar PIL filed by NGO ‘Common Cause’, alleging export of iron ore in pellet form by some firms by evading duty.

The NGO also sought a direction to either ban the export or levy a 30 per cent duty on exports of iron ore in all forms including pellets.

The Centre, in its response affidavit, sought dismissal of the PILs on grounds contending that imposing or removing the export duty on any class of commodities is a policy decision of the government.

“Iron ore pellets have been subject to export duty from time to time, Imposing export duty or removing it on any class of commodities is a policy decision. The periods in which export duty was applicable to the export of iron ore pellets bearing…The imposition of export duty on any commodity or class of commodities is a public decision and such decisions have been taken by the government of India from time to time,” the Centre said.

The commerce ministry said that the decision to exempt a particular type of iron pellet is product-specific and not company-specific as projected in the petition.

“The present petition is a case of gross abuse of process of law and the petitioner has been known in the past to have filed similar kinds of petitions which are publicity driven and completely motivated in nature …the answering respondents (Centre) beseeches this court to handle these kinds of publicity savvy petitions with an iron hand. The allegations of evasion of the monumental magnitude are completely unfounded in the present petition,” the affidavit said.

The PIL, on the other hand, said the companies be prosecuted for alleged evasion of export duty by declaring wrong tariff code to export the iron ore under the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992.

The plea said iron ore “smuggling to China” has been taking place as these companies have been exporting them without paying 30 per cent export duty.

The PIL said the ministries of commerce and finance control regulate the export policies and decide as to under which Harmonized System (HS) Codes each good will be exported.

It said the government had set up a firm with the name of KIOCL to use low-grade iron ore and export them under the “duty-free Tariff HS code 26011210 which is exclusively prescribed for KIOCL”.

The PIL said under Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992, “tariff HS CODE NO. 26011100 was prescribed to export ‘all other kinds of iron ore’ subject to payment of export duty at the rate of 30 per cent”.

The firms were wrongly allowed to export iron ore using the tariff code being used by KIOCL and as a result crores of rupees have been cheated by them, it said.

The ministries of commerce and finance, the customs department, and 61 companies have been “hand-in-glove” and the firms have been “smuggling millions of tons of iron ore @ iron ore pellets to China” in violation of various laws by “using Tariff HS Code 26011210 instead of 26011100 and evading 30 per cent export duties since 2015 till date”, the PIL said.

It alleged violation of the Customs Act, the COFEPOSA, the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, and certain penal provisions relating to cheating and forgery and sought a court-monitored and time-bound CBI probe against the companies.

“Be further pleased to issue the writ of mandamus to respondent no.1 & 2 (ministries) to issue a show-cause notice to all smugglers/ accused persons…to impose and recover Rs 7,08,000 crores penalties, jointly & severally, from exporters..,” the plea said.

It said export duty evasion on iron ore export to China has been continuing since 2015 and the Centre, on being told about this, “did not issue even show-cause notice to them and refused to stop said smuggling”.

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