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Kallatra Abbas Haji: The Don Who Left A Legal Imprint

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While the citizens of Kasaragod remember Kallatra Abbas Haji for his acts of charity, the Customs Department remembers him for leaving his mark on Section 138 of the Customs Act 1962. (Representative Image)

While the citizens of Kasaragod remember Kallatra Abbas Haji for his acts of charity, the Customs Department remembers him for leaving his mark on Section 138 of the Customs Act 1962. (Representative Image)

While many sought to escape the law, Haji left a lasting impact, not through violence, but through a legal battle that redefined the interpretation of the Customs Act

Among the celebrated names of Kasaragod dons is that of Kallatra Abbas Haji. It is common for dons to cross swords with the police, Customs and the Enforcement Directorate while pursuing their illegal activities. To escape the law, some dons seek refuge in foreign lands, while others face incarceration and preventive detention. However, Kallatra Abbas Haji stands out for leaving an indelible legal imprint, oft-quoted in many criminal and Customs cases.

In one instance involving the Customs Department, a case was registered against Haji and six other associates: M.M. Abdulla Kunhi, Mammad alias Srakutty Mammed, M.M. Thajuddin alias M.M. Thaji, B.M. Abdul Khader, CM. Abdulla, and Theruvath Kasmi. These individuals had implicated Haji in statements they gave to Customs officials while in custody. Although these statements were not admitted as evidence in the quasi-judicial proceedings before the Customs adjudicators, they were used to penalise Haji. Subsequent statutory appeals to two other departmental forums also failed. Finally, a writ petition was filed in the Kerala High Court, which delivered a landmark verdict.

The Kerala High Court had in another case observed that “an administrator performing judicial or quasi-judicial function is not a court, and therefore his proceedings are not governed by the procedure generally followed in courts. He is the master of his proceedings, and so long as he conducts them fairly and justly, they cannot be challenged….” (Abraham v. Addl. Collector of Customs, 1976 K.L.T. 660, 669). This judgement posed a significant challenge for those fighting against quasi-judicial excesses, but, interestingly, the defending advocate in Haji’s case raised the point of relevancy of the statements recorded by the Customs officials. The relevant portions of the judgement are reproduced below for appreciation by the readers.

Section 138B (Customs Act) states that a statement made and signed by a person before any gazetted officer of Customs is relevant to prove the truth of the fact it contains in any proceeding under the Act. But these statements are relevant only if the conditions prescribed under clauses (a) or (b) of Section 138B are satisfied. Here, there is no case that clause (a) applies. If at all, clause (b) alone can be attracted. Under this clause, the statement is relevant when (a) the person who made the statement is examined and (b) the statement is admitted in evidence after the authority forms an opinion that in the interest of justice and having regard to the circumstances of the case, it should be so admitted.”

“The original statements were not produced and admitted in evidence at the time of the enquiry. There is nothing to show that the authority had formed an opinion that they were necessary to be admitted in the interests of justice. Section 138B is not attracted to the facts and circumstances of this case and the statements do not constitute relevant evidence even under Section 138B.”

(Kerala High Court, Kallatra Abbas Haji Vs Government of India on 25 July 1985, Equivalent citations: 1985(6) ECC21, 1985(5) ECR1746(KERALA), 1994(69) ELT212(KER).

The above landmark ruling is one of the most regularly cited decisions in innumerable legal cases, decided by various legal forums across the country.

The family name “Kallatra” has an intriguing story behind it. During the 1920s, houses in the Kasaragod region were typically made of grass and palm leaves, but the first brick house was dubbed “Kallatra,” a name that eventually became associated with the family of Kallatra Abbas Haji. He later distinguished himself as a leading philanthropist; a socio-political leader.

Commenting about the novel ‘The Day of the Jackal’, author Jeffrey Keeten writes, “A professional does not act out of fervour and is therefore more calm and less likely to make elementary errors. Not being idealistic, he is not likely to have second thoughts at the last minute about who else might get hurt in the explosion or whatever method, and being a professional he has calculated the risks to the last contingency. So his chances of success on schedule are surer than anyone else’s, but he will not even enter into operation until he has devised a plan that will enable him not only to complete the mission, but to escape unharmed.”

Kallatra Abbas Haji may be gone, but a single judgement created an aura around him that none in his profession can claim. While the citizens of Kasaragod remember him for his acts of charity, the Customs Department remembers him for leaving his mark on Section 138 of the Customs Act 1962.

The writer is a retired officer of the IRS and the former director-general of the National Academy of Customs, Indirect Taxes & Narcotics. Views expressed in the above piece are personal and solely that of the author. They do not necessarily reflect News18’s views.



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