High Court in India refuses to order release of Tanzanian cashew nuts

(image souce: vinacas.blogspot.com - accessed by wavuti.com)
The Madras High Court Bench here has refused to direct Customs officials at VOC Port in Thoothukudi district to release 290.25 tonnes of Tanzanian cashew nuts lying in a warehouse since April 29 due to ownership dispute between two importers based in Kerala.

Justice M. Venugopal dismissed a writ petition filed by N. Ponnappan, a cashew trader based at Kollam in Kerala, who accused a distributor in Thoothukudi of attempting to amend the name of importer in the ‘Bill of Lading’ and divert the nuts to another company for a higher price.

Stating that the case involved disputed questions of fact, the judge said such disputes could not be resolved by the High Court by exercising its writ jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution which could be invoked to examine procedural correctness and not merits of a controversy.

He, however, gave liberty to the disputing parties to approach either the Adjudicating Authority under the Customs Act, 1962 to prove their right over the consignment or institute appropriate proceedings under the general law, civil law or criminal law to get their grievances redressed.

According to the petitioner, he had entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the distributor for supplying a larger consignment of 6,960 tonnes of raw cashew nuts of which 5534.828 tonnes were already delivered.

The present 290.25 tonnes were part of the remaining quantity to be supplied. These nuts were packed in 3,870 bags and loaded in 18 containers on March 22 before being shipped from Dar es Salaam on April 14.

They reached the port on April 29. Though the Proforma Bill of Lading contained petitioner’s name as importer, the distributor amended it for personal gains, he alleged. Contesting the case, the distributor contended that the proforma could not be considered a ‘Bill of Lading’ as stipulated under the Indian Bills of Lading Act, 1856 since it did not contain the seal of the carrier.

He also argued that the petitioner had no legal right to claim ownership without the original Bill of Lading. Further, stating that the petitioner’s name was entered by mistake in Import General Manifest, the distributor said that he had made a proper application for amending it in terms of Section 30(3) of the Customs Act, 1962 read with Levy of Fees (Customs Documents) Regulations, 1970.