M A I N   N E W S

Sports car caught in bureaucratic jam
Maneesh Chhibber
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, May 1
For Mr Nasafor Ali Sheikh and Ms Hasena Sheikh, a British couple, their sports car has been the cause of most of their travails in India.

Subtle hints have been given to them to leave India without the costly car, a Toyota Celica, which was impounded by the Customs officials at Wagah check-post in Amritsar. But, Mr Sheikh is resisting the pressure.

“My car is in their custody. They wanted me and my wife to leave without the car. But, why should I do that?” asks Mr Sheikh.

The Sheikh couple’s could be yet another story of official redtapism, high-handedness of Customs officials and the slow judicial system of India.

Both were on their way to Bangladesh, the country of their origin, driving in their car and had crossed over 50 countries on their way.

At Wagah, when they crossed over into India from Pakistan on July 19, 2003, their entry was not duly registered by the Customs officers. The BSF officials, though, had full record of their entry and had even frisked them and the car.

They were finally brought back from Jalandhar and booked for alleged unauthorised entry into India. After six days in jail, both were bailed out.

A protracted legal battle followed, which ended when, on appeal, the Additional Sessions Judge, Amritsar, let them off.

In his order, the Judge held that circumstances showed that “no intentional lapse had been committed by them”. While noting that it was a case of negligence on their part, which, technically speaking, amounted to violation of the Foreigners Act, the court also held that they were not indulging in any unlawful activity.

The Judge then modified the sentence of one year rigorous imprisonment awarded by the lower court into the sentence of imprisonment already undergone by them, remarking that the lower court had been a bit harsh on them.

In its order dated January 8, 2005, the court also ordered the authorities to return the passports and other documents seized from them.

But, Mr Sheikh and his wife are still suffering the “unreasonable” demands of the Customs authorities.

“They are not letting us take the car. They are not telling me what my crime is. As for the car, I have even offered to give an undertaking that I would not sell my car in India. But, they don’t want to return my car,” he laments.

Incidentally, their travails continue despite a letter written to the Assistant Commissioner of Customs, Amritsar, by the First Secretary (Consular) at the British High Commission in New Delhi.

In that letter, the First Secretary has requested that assistance be extended to the couple to facilitate their journey to Bangladesh. But, nothing has happened.

Incidentally, in reply to the show cause issued by the Customs Department, the couple’s counsel has laid the blame for their miseries on the doors of the officials, who did not register their entry into India properly.

Counsel has also said that his clients have been pressured by “certain officials to surrender their car in India and leave”.

“This was being done so as to please certain influential persons who want to buy this state-of-art machinery, which is not available in India, at throwaway price, by getting it auctioned as confiscated customs goods,” the reply alleges.

It also states that the couple was ready to take the car back to England and could even furnish a surety as was being sought by the department.

“But, they are not ready to let us take the car. On one pretext or the other, I know they will try to stall our efforts to take the car back,” rues Mr Sheikh.

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