The Financial Express

Customs Act amendment

Bangladesh's customs waters double

| Updated: June 11, 2021 11:01:19

Bangladesh's customs waters double

The water area under the Bangladesh Customs supervision has doubled, extending up to twenty four nautical miles in the maritime boundary from the previous twelve nautical miles from baseline.

The extended area came under the control of the customs authority on June 3, 2021, following amendment of the relevant provision in the Finance Bill 2021.

On March 15, 2012, Bangladesh won the maritime boundary dispute with Myanmar. The country also won a disputed water area with India on July 8, 2014.

Following the verdicts of international courts on disputes with the two countries, Bangladesh got its sovereign rights on above 1,18,813 square kilometres (sq-km) of territorial sea, 200 nautical miles of economic zone and 354 nautical miles, from Chattogram coastal area, of the undersea resources.

Syed Golam Kibria, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) Member (customs policy), said the amendment in the Customs Act 1969 was done following a proposal of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA).

He said the changes were brought, as there was no legal provision in the customs law on the rights of customs officials in the extended areas, won by Bangladesh (after winning the disputes).

There was a scope to face litigation in the international court in case of further disputes on other maritime boundaries, he added.

Officials said the customs officials would now be able to inspect or monitor the additional 12 nautical miles for checking smuggling or illegal plying of water-vessels.

Amimul Ehsan Khan, first secretary of the NBR's Customs Wing, said the customs officials got the legal rights of supervision in the extended area after long.

"In case of inspection beyond (the previous) 12 nautical miles, the customs authorities might face problems due to absence of the provision in the law," he added.

Bangladesh filed cases in the International Court on October 8, 2009 to resolve dispute on maritime boundary with India and Myanmar after negotiation of more than three decades had failed.

A verdict, delivered by the German-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), sustained Bangladesh's claim for 200 nautical miles exclusive economic zone and territorial rights in the Bay of Bengal against the claim of Myanmar.

Resolving the long-standing India-Bangladesh maritime boundary dispute, a Hague-based international court awarded Bangladesh 19,467 sq-km area of the disputed 25,602 sq-km in the Bay of Bengal.

After five years of arguments and counter arguments by the two nations, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) delivered the verdict with no scope of appeal.

Despite several attempts, officials of the MoFA Maritime Unit could not be contacted for comments.

On the delay in amending the customs law for the extended area, a senior customs official, preferring anonymity, said the issue remained unnoticed for long despite winning of the water periphery from two neighbouring countries.

The customs authorities of other neighbouring countries are also allowed to supervise up to 24 nautical miles. The NBR proposed the amendments in line with the references of other countries.

Bangladesh Customs hardly goes to the water areas beyond 12 nautical miles. But in case of entrance of illegal ships or conducting anti-smuggling drives it would need legal authority in the extended area, he added.

During the budget for fiscal year 2021-22, the Customs Wing addressed the issue, and the law was amended in this regard.

As per the Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1931 (Act No. XVI of 1931), Section 3, the government has made the amendment effective from the day of budget proposal (June 3, 2021), considering its urgency for the sake of national interest.

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