By Avinash Pandey
Today, on December 13, the Government of India and the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) are celebrating 60-years of The Customs Act. It was enacted on 13-December, 1962 and came into force on 1-February, 1963. CBIC and its field formations have been celebrating the 60-years of the Act, during the last week, by organising public events to create awareness amongst the public, and spread the information about the initiatives of the Indian Customs under the Act. The Act has been in the forefront of providing economic, environmental, intellectual, social and national security to the nation through sea, air and land borders.
This is one of the rare moments when an Act is celebrated, and here we will see why it rightly and truly deserves the celebration. Moreover, the public and the citizens, alike must be aware and take pride in the steadfast journey of this Act. To paraphrase Vivek Johri, Chairperson CBIC, this Act is a well-written, simple and short law, which has served us well.
Also read| Paperless customs compliance for exports soon: Johri
The Customs Act has dual responsibility on the economic front. On the one hand it acts as a bulwark maintaining the economic sovereignty of India. It is done by measures such as anti-smuggling, checking dumping of goods, movement of counterfeit and contraband goods and currency. On the other hand, it gives a fillip to the economic development of India by promoting trade, business and industry. Customs play a critical role in the ease of doing business. Looking at the Ease of Doing Business rankings, released by the World Bank, India’s overall rank and trading across borders rank in 2016 was 130 and 133, respectively. In 2020, it was 63 and 68, respectively. It provides a stimulus to trade through trade facilitation measures like single window clearances (SWIFT), Authorised Economic Operator (AEO), and many others. It is thus crucial in maintaining a resilient logistical framework in the global supply and value chains (GVCs). Thus, Indian Customs through the Act is playing a major role in protecting the economic security and promoting economic development of India.
Also read| Customs violations: Monetary limit for legal action raised
The Customs Act has undergone many organic changes to meet the demands of time and technology, though it continues to retain its fundamental character. The Act has been in the forefront of the digitalisation initiative. In, as early as, 1995 it introduced the automation through Indian Customs Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) System (ICES). There was no looking back after that. Moving forward, it introduced Indian Customs EDI Gateway (ICEGATE) in 2003, Risk Management System (RMS) in 2006, Single Window Interface for Facilitating Trade (SWIFT) for all border clearances integrating with Partner Government Agencies (PGAs) in 2016, Express Cargo Clearance System in 2017, e-Sanchit – an online document repository – in 2018, ATITHI, a mobile App to facilitate travellers, and Turant Customs as a next generation reform towards faceless, paperless and contactless customs in 2019. Recently, a much revamped portal ICEGATE 2.0 has been introduced, along with the online portal of Custom Broker Licence Management System (CBLMS) in 2022. These measures were recognised by the World Customs Organisation (WCO), and are in line with the theme of WCO for 2022, which is, “Scaling up Customs Digital Transformation by Embracing a Data Culture and Building a Data Ecosystem”. The digitalisation measures of the Indian Customs Act are in direction to provide probity, accountability, transparency and reduction in cost and time, through faceless and contactless services.
The customs revenue, even with all these facilitation measures, has increased 5-times in the last two decades. However, the focus of Indian Customs has moved away from revenue collection to a larger goal of border control and security. The Act aims to strike a right balance between facilitation and enforcement, by following the internationally recognised “just in-time” principles. Today, 85-90% of the imports are cleared on self-declaration supported by an integrated risk-assessment framework (RMS). The challenge is not only to protect the borders and the economy, but also to safeguard the society and citizens, alike. This challenge stems from organised crime, narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, money laundering, international terror financing, cross-border movement of arms and explosives, and narco-terrorism. Indian Customs, through the Customs Act, in its journey of 60-years have effectively been able to handle the traditional and modern challenges.
Looking forward, the Customs Act and the Indian Customs shall be ready to employ the futuristic and disruptive technologies. These include, but are not limited to, predictive and prescriptive analytics, deep learning and artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, image and video processing, autonomous robots, block-chain, digital twins, internet of (every)things, and alike. It will provide a fillip to the desired balance between facilitation and enforcement.
Prime Minister, Narendra Modi in 2016, exhorted the tax administrators to follow the ‘RAPID’ charter – Revenue, Accountability, Probity, Information and Digitisation. The Customs Act in its journey of 60-years and in its outlook for the future seems prepared to emulate and execute it effectively and efficiently.
The citizens and the nation shall be made aware of the pervasive role played by The Customs Act in their daily lives and also in securing, not only the economic frontiers, but also other realms of our nation. Let us all join together in celebrating the glorious journey of 60-years of this well-documented and judiciously implemented law.
The author is an IRS officer, currently working as Assistant Commissioner in Nagpur Customs.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited.