BENGALURU: Acme Cleantech Solutions, a solar power developer, has petitioned the Madras High Court against a move by customs officials at Chennai port to charge import duty on panels and modules, which were previously exempt from the levy.
In its petition filed on November 24, Acme said it had been importing solar panels and modules for the past seven years without ever having been asked to pay duty. It noted that starting September 12, Acme has had to furnish bank guarantees totalling Rs 6.05 crore as import duty as well as a provisional bond of Rs 66.11 crore for the full value of the consignments that arrived at Chennai port, to get them released.
The company needs to import about 5,000 containers of solar modules over the next six months with a value of Rs 2,100 crore for various projects under construction, which would require payment of another Rs 162 crore as duty if such classification continued, said Acme, which operates 874 MW of solar projects across 12 states and is setting up 940 MW.
About 90% of the solar panels and modules used in Indian projects are imported because domestic manufacturing capacity is small and cannot match global prices. Imported
solar panels and modules had been classified in a category that includes diodes, transistors, photosensitive semiconductor devices and light-emitting diodes, which did not
attract any duty, as reported by ET on October 14. Since early September, Chennai customs officials have grouped them as electrical motors and generators, which attract import duty of 7.5% and other cesses.
Acme said in its petition that customs officials were not following the proper procedure in making their revised assessments.
“It is against the principles of customs law to dispute the self-assessment by the importer without reassessment of the bill of entry and the passing of an oral order, or without the issuing of a show cause notice,” the petition said. “The respondent (i.e., Commissioner of Customs, Chennai) has blatantly ignored the elementary principles of customs law.”
In the absence of a notice or speaking order, the company “is being denied the opportunity to defend its case before the adjudicating authority,” Acme said.
Acme is the only one that has gone to court on this matter even though a large number of solar developers are similarly affected. Minister for New & Renewable Energy RK Singh has written to finance minister Arun Jaitley to intervene in the matter and restore the former classification (ET, November 25) but there has been no response so far.
MNRE Secretary Anand Kumar has taken up the matter with the Central Board of Excise and Customs to no avail. Instead, Chennai port’s classification of solar panels and modules has since been extended to some other ports as well.