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India Customs set to roll out faceless assessment of cargo

Specialists in specific cargoes will carry out virtual assessments

The Customs Department will take the ease of doing business initiatives to the next level by rolling out the concept of faceless assessment of cargo across the country over the next few months, whereby consignments will be assessed by a virtual group irrespective of where the Bill of Entry is filed, a top official has said.

A Bill of Entry is a document filed by an importer or an exporter specifying the nature, quantity and value of goods that have landed or are being shipped out.

“We are moving ahead with the concept of faceless assessment,” said Baswaraj Nalegave, Commissioner of Customs (City and ICD), Bangalore. “From now onwards, in a phased manner, we will ensure that the assessment of cargo need not be done at the same place where the Bill of Entry is filed,” he stated.

“Suppose, a Bill of Entry is filed in Mangaluru, and it pertains to, say, a particular fuel oil. There can be specialised Custom Houses in the country which specialise in a specific cargo and these alone will assess that Bill no matter where it is filed,” he said.

“We have already started the pilot in Bangalore. So, all machinery will be assessed by a virtual group no matter where the Bill of Entry is filed. In Chennai, it’s already being done. It’s a matter of a few months before it is rolled out across the country,” he noted.

India’s export-import trade has often complained that each seaport carries out assessment and examination in its own way, with Customs officers adopting complete divergence in practices.

“This will be brought to a halt soon,” he said.

Authorised economic operator

The Customs Department could consider relaxing the Rs 10-lakh bank guarantee for logistics operators who are keen on acquiring the status of authorised economic operator (AEO) — an entity engaged in international trade and approved by Customs and compliant with supply chain security standards prescribed by the World Customs Organisation.

“We will ensure that if you are compliant with all aspects and you are given the stamp of an AEO, the bank guarantee which has been hindering your functionality, will not be required,” he said, adding that the AEO is set to get more traction in the coming months.

“The World Customs Organisation is looking at how to leverage an AEO in multi-lateral and bi-lateral agreements between countries. As and when that happens, and if in the entire supply chain each one is an AEO, maximum benefits will accrue to it. That means that exporting and importing nations would have to have similar standards on that count,” he added.

Customs played a key role in improving India’s ranking in the ease of doing business, which jumped 14 places to 63 this year from 77 last year. “This year, we will jump another 12 places,” he stated.

“Customs has come a long way. We are here as facilitators more than as an enforcement agency. We have moved ahead from the concept of looking at every document, opening every consignment and then giving clearances for EXIM cargo, to the concept of trusting the links in the supply chain. We have gone ahead and established a concept of risk management system (RMS). Had it not been for this system, the Customs Department would not have been able to handle the volumes which are there today,” he added.

Recently, the Customs introduced the concept of document identification number while sending out letters to exporters and importers calling for hearing, seeking details, or issuing show cause notices.

The genuineness of the document identification number can be verified by accessing the website of the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC).

“Any document of the Customs which does not display the document identification number can be ignored. This is the extent of facilitation we have reached,” Nalegave said.

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