Imports and exports through courier mode have registered a healthy rate of growth in recent years. For regulating such imports and exports, the Government has framed the Courier Imports and Exports (Clearance) Regulations, 1998. At present, the facility of courier clearance is available at Customs airports in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Calcutta, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, and Land Customs Stations at Petrapole and Gojadanga. Under the scheme, the courier goods are cleared through a fast track mode on observance of simple formalities by courier companies. Examination of parcels is kept to the minimum and clearance is allowed on the basis of selective scrutiny of documents. The duty, where leviable, is paid by the courier company on behalf of importers/exporters before taking delivery of the parcels. The weight limit for courier/express material (individual packages) for imports and exports is fixed at 70 kg.

2. The facility of imports and exports through courier mode is allowed to only to those courier companies which are registered by the Customs. These courier companies are called “Authorized Couriers”. The courier parcels are normally carried by passenger/cargo aircrafts. In the case of clearance through Land Customs Stations, other mode of transport is used. The regulations gives option to the courier company to get the goods imported through an on-board courier or the person in-charge of the aircraft (commander of the aircraft). Both of them are allowed to file the Courier Import Manifest. However, due to security reasons the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) insists that courier consignments in an aircraft are accompanied by an on-board courier. On arrival of import goods at the airport or at the Land Customs Station, the on-board courier/the authorized agent of the courier company carrying goods by any other mode of transport hands over the goods to different courier companies for undertaking Customs clearance of their consignments.

Categories of Goods Allowed for Import or Export through Courier :

3. (A) Import : Except for certain excluded categories, all goods are allowed to be imported through the courier mode. The goods which are not allowed to be imported through courier are (a) animals and plants; (b) perishables; (c) publications containing maps depicting incorrect boundaries of India; (d) precious and semi precious stones, gold or silver in any form; and (e) chemicals falling within Chapters 28, 29 and 38 of the Customs Tariff. Perishables and chemicals require testing of samples before clearance. Import of animals and plants is subject to sanitary and phyto sanitary regulations. In either case, the assessment and clearance takes time. These goods, therefore, do not fit into the scheme, which envisages Customs clearance on a fast track mode. Further, passenger terminals and Land Customs Stations are not equipped to handle precious and semi precious cargo.

(B) Export : As in the case of imports, all goods are allowed to be exported though courier except for certain excluded categories. The goods not allowed to be exported through courier mode are those which attract any duty on exports or those exported under export promotion schemes, such as Drawback, DEPB, DEEC, EPCG etc. Other exclusions include goods where the value of the consignment is above Rs.25,000/- and transaction in foreign exchange is involved. The limit of Rs.25,000/- does not apply where the G.R. waiver or specific permission has been obtained from the Reserve Bank of India.

Import and Export of Gems and Jewellery:

4. Import of gems and jewellery including samples thereof by Export Oriented Units or units in Export Processing Zones is allowed through courier. Likewise, export of cut and polished diamond, gems and jewellery under any scheme of EXIM Policy from Export Oriented Units, units in Export Processing Zones or units in the Domestic Tariff Area is allowed through courier subject to the condition that the value of each export consignment under such export does not exceed Rs. 20 lakhs.

Classification of Goods:

5. For facilitating Customs clearance, the goods imported by courier have been divided into three categories, viz (a) documents; (b) samples and free gifts; and (c) dutiable or commercial goods. The documents include any message, information or data recorded on paper, cards or photographs having no commercial value, and which do not attract any duty or subject to any prohibition/restriction on their import or export. Samples have been defined to mean any bonafide commercial samples and prototypes of goods supplied free of charge of a value not exceeding Rs.50,000/- for exports and Rs.5000/- for imports which are not subject to any prohibition or restriction on their import or export and which does not involve transfer of foreign exchange. Free gifts means any bonafide gifts of articles for personal use of a value not exceeding rupees 25,000/- for a consignment in case of exports and Rs.5000/- for imports which are not subject to any prohibition or restriction on their import or export and which do not involve transfer of foreign exchange. The third category of imports is dutiable or commercial goods.

Packing Requirements and Procedural Formalities for Clearance of Import Goods:

6. The Regulations require the above three categories of goods to be packaged distinctively in identifiable courier company bags with appropriate labels. This is because, the scheme of assessment and clearance of the goods is different for the three categories. Essentially, the goods in the first two categories do not attract any customs duty. Therefore, simplified Bills of Entry (Courier Bill of Entry-III for documents and Courier Bill of Entry-IV for samples and free gifts) have been specified for their clearance. One single Courier Bill of Entry is sufficient for clearance of any number of such goods imported by any Authorised Courier on a particular flight. It is, however, necessary that for the purpose of clearance of documents, the manifest filed by the Authorised Courier specifies the nature of document i.e. whether letters, brochures, catalogues, manuals, etc. This is necessary to verify that indeed the item of import viz., ‘document’ is duty free and deserves to be cleared under CBE-III of the regulations. For clearing dutiable or commercial goods, Form Courier Bill of Entry-V is required to be filed. This Form can contain a number of individual consignments imported by one courier on behalf of more than one consignee. There is no limit as regards the quantity of dutiable or commercial goods which can be imported through the courier. These goods are assessed to duty on merits like any other imported goods, and exemption, wherever available, is allowed to such imports when claimed.

7. It may be mentioned that the value limit prescribed for samples and free gifts is exclusive of freight and insurance element. However, in case of goods valued above Rs.5,000/-, freight and insurance is added to calculate the duty payable.

8. The simplified procedure for filing Courier Bills of Entry does not apply to all goods. The regulations stipulate that for certain categories of imports, a regular Bill of Entry prescribed in the Bill of Entry (Forms) Regulations, 1976 is to be filed. These include, (a) goods imported under duty exemption scheme applicable to EOUs and units in EPZs; (b) goods imported under DEPB, DEEC and EPCG Schemes; (c) goods imported against the license issued under the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation), Act, 1992 and (d) goods imported by a related person defined under the Customs Valuation Rules, 1988.

Procedural Formalities for Clearance of Export Goods:

9. In case of export goods, the Authorised Courier files Courier Shipping Bills with the proper officer of Customs at the airport or Land Customs Station before departure of flight or other mode of transport, as the case may be. Different Forms have been prescribed for export of documents and other goods. The Authorised Courier is required to present the export goods to the proper officer for inspection, examination and assessment.

10. However, for certain categories of export goods, a regular Shipping Bill prescribed in the Shipping Bill and Bill of Export (Form) Regulations 1991 is required to be filed. Such Shipping Bills are processed at the Air Cargo Complex or the EOUs or EPZs or STP or EHTP and thereafter with the permission of Customs, the goods are handed over to a courier agency for onward dispatch. The goods to which the above procedure applies are those – (a) originating from EOUs, units in FTZs/STPs/EHTP; (b) proposed to be exported under DEPB, DEEC, EPCG and Drawback Schemes and (c) which require a licence for export under the Foreign Trade (Development and Regulation) Act, 1992.

11. It may be noted that the scheme of clearance of imports and exports by courier mode introduces certain procedural relaxation in regard to customs clearance procedures. Such imports and exports will, however, continue to be governed by the provisions of the EXIM Policy applicable to such imports and exports. In other words, the courier imports and exports will have to comply with the provisions and requirements of the EXIM Policy or any other law for the time being in force, subject to which only imports or exports may be permissible.

Disposal of Uncleared Goods:

12. The regulations prescribe a procedure for clearance of uncleared goods. In case of imported goods, a notice is required to be issued to the Authorised Courier and goods can be disposed of after the expiry of 30 days of the arrival of the said goods. The charges payable for storage and holding of such goods are to be borne by the Authorised Courier. In the case of export goods, a similar procedure has been prescribed, the only difference being that such goods can be disposed of if they have not been exported within seven days of arrival into the Customs Area or within such extended period as may be permitted by the Customs.

Registration of Authorised Courier:

13. A person desirous of operating as an Authorised Courier is required to get himself registered with the jurisdictional Commissioner of Customs. The registration is valid for 3 years and it can be renewed for another 3 years if performance of courier is satisfactory. An Authorised Courier is allowed to have registration at more than one airport or Land Customs Station. However, separate bond and security will have to be furnished at each airport and Land Customs Station. The person applying for registration should be financially viable and in support thereof he is required to produce a certificate issued by a scheduled bank or such other proof evidencing possession of assets of a value not less than Rs. 5 lakhs. Further, he will have to execute a bond with a security of Rs.2 lakhs for registration at Mumbai, Calcutta, Delhi and Chennai. At other airports and Land Customs Stations, the security deposit is kept at Rs. 1 lakh. The security can be in cash or in the form of postal security or National Savings Certificate or Bank Guarantee. A condition of the bond is that the applicant agrees to pay the duty, if any, not levied or short levied with interest, if applicable, on any goods taken clearance by the Authorised Courier.

Obligation of Authorised Courier:

14. A number of obligations have been cast on the Authorised Courier under the Courier Imports and Exports (Clearance) Regulations. These include obtaining an authorization from the consignees for clearance of import or export goods; advising his client to comply with the provisions of the Customs Act, 1962 and rules and regulations made there-under; exercising due diligence in furnishing information to the Customs in relation to clearance of import or export goods; not withholding any information communicated to him by Customs relating to assessment and clearance of import/export goods from a client; not withholding any information relating to assessment and clearance of import/export goods from the assessing officer and not attempting to influence the conduct of any officer of Customs in any matter by the use of threat, false accusation, duress or offer of any special inducement etc. Further, he is required to maintain records and accounts prescribed by the Customs.

De-registration and Forfeiture of Security:

15. The registration of an authorised courier can be revoked by the Commissioner and his security can be forfeited on grounds of his failure to comply with the conditions of the bond, the provisions of regulations and misconduct. Revocation of registration can be made only after a notice has been issued to the Authorised Courier and he is given an opportunity to present his case in writing as well as opportunity of being heard in the matter. In cases where an inquiry needs to be conducted to establish prima facie the grounds against the Authorised Courier, the Commissioner of Customs can, pending such inquiry, suspend the registration. An Authorised Courier, if aggrieved by the order of the Commissioner, may represent to the Chief Commissioner within 60 days of communication of the impugned order.

{Reference: Courier Imports and Exports (Clearance) Regulations, 1988; Circular No.56/95-Customs, dated 30.5.95 (issued from F.No.446/18/94-Cus. IV); and Circular No.85/98-Customs dated 13.11.98 (issued from F.No.450/120/97-Cus.IV).