A Pet’s Day in Customs!

Date: Friday, 11 March 2011

For Representational Purpose Only

I have been wondering how domestic pet animals are being allowed to be imported through the International Airports in India, ever since I have come across a newspaper report that pets were not being allowed to be imported at the newly inaugurated Bangalooru International Airport due to the unavailability of quarantine facilities there.

What is a Pet Animal?

A pet is explained in the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English as “any animal tamed and kept as favourite or treated with fondness”. The Shorter Oxford Dictionary explains the word as: “Any animal that is domesticated or tamed and kept as a favourite or treated with fondness, esp. applied to a lamb reared by hand.” The same word is explained in Chambers’ Twentieth Century Dictionary as: “Any animal tamed and fondled.”

The popular website http://wikipedia.org defines a pet as an animal kept for companionship and enjoyment or a household animal, as opposed to livestock, laboratory animals, working animals or sport animals, which are kept for economic reasons. The most popular pets are noted for their loyal or playful characteristics, for their attractive appearance, or for their song. Pets also generally seem to provide their owners with non-trivial health benefits. Keeping pets has been shown to help relieve stress to those who like having animals around. There is now a medically-approved class of "therapy animals," mostly dogs, who are brought to visit confined humans. Walking a dog can provide both the owner and the dog with exercise, fresh air, and social interaction. Animal species commonly kept as pets include dog, cat, rabbit, mouse, guinea pig, cockatiel, sugar glider, budgerigar, ferret, gerbil, parrot, koil, pigeon, goldfish, Siamese fighting fish, zebra fish, catfish, eel, clownfish, seahorse, blue tang, yellow tang, butterfly fish, damsel fish, common hermit crab, axolotls, frogs, snake, hamster, etc.

What is the Legal Stand?

The Hon’ble Supreme Court in the case of Sheikh Mohd. Omer Versus Collector of Customs, Calcutta and Others reported as 1983 (13) E.L.T. 1439 (S.C.), has observed in para 12 as: “12. There is no evidence to show that “Jury Maid” was tamed. That apart the “Jury Maid” was not fondled or treated with fondness by the appellant. He obtained that animal on lease for certain specified purpose. In respect of that animal he had only a business connection. Rejecting the contention of the appellant that “Jury Maid” is a pet animal, the learned Judges of the Appellate Bench of the Calcutta High Court observed:

“There is no such species of animal known as “Pet animal". What happens is that certain kind of animals or birds are often domesticated and when a particular person becomes fond of such an animal or bird it may be said to have become a “pet” of that person and may be called a “pet animal”. It is a subjective expression. In the present case, the mare “Jury Maid” was not the “pet” of any particular person. So far as the appellant is concerned, he had not even seen the mare when it arrived in India. It cannot be said that he became fond of it at any relevant point of time. In actual life we find that men have at times become fond of strange animals like lions, tigers and even crocodiles. It was not intended to make the baggage rules a warrant for transforming passengers’ ships into a Noah’s Ark ............"

13. We entirely agree with those observations and reject the contention of the appellant that “Jury Maid” was a pet animal.”

Is Your Pet a Baggage Item and Dutiable?

The focal point to ponder here is whether a pet is a baggage item or not. “Baggage” is defined in section 2(3) of the Customs Act, 1962 as “baggage includes unaccompanied baggage, but does not include motor vehicle.” As such it can be safely be concluded that the pets brought by a passenger is his baggage. Even before the enactment of the Customs Act, 1962 one could find that in exercise of the powers under section 75 of the Sea Customs Act, 1878, the Central Board of Revenue had promulgated the “Passengers (Non-Tourist) Baggage Rules” vide the notification No. 122 dated 19.11.1960. Further, the Government of India, Ministry of Commerce and Industries, vide the Import Trade Control Public Notice (ITC-PN) No. 1-I.T.C.(PN)/61, dated 2nd January, 1961, have explained the above mentioned notification of the Central Board of Revenue dated 19.11.1960. The relevant portion here is clause 4 which reads as:

“4. The clearance of one dog, pet animals and birds in a limited number may be allowed without Import Trade Control restrictions on furnishing the following health certificates to the Customs authorities:

(i) A health certificate from a Veterinary Officer authorised to issue a valid certificate by the Government in the country of export to the effect that the dog imported is free from Aujossky's disease, Distemper, Rabies, Leishmaniasis and Leptospirosis and in the case of cats from Rabies and Distemper.

(ii) In the case of import of dogs and cats originating from countries where Rabies infection is known to exist, a health certificate containing a record of vaccination, the vaccine used, brew of the vaccine and the name of the production laboratory and to the effect that the dog/cat was vaccinated against Rabies more than one month, but within 12 months prior to actual embarkation with nervous tissue vaccine or within 36 months prior to actual embarkation with chicken embryo vaccine, both vaccines having previously passed satisfactory potency tests.

(iii) In the case of parrots, a certificate to the effect that the parrots were subjected to a compliment fixation test for Psittacosis with negative results within 30 days prior to actual embarkation.”

The contention that the pets brought by a passenger can be termed as his baggage also finds further support from the Board’s letter F. No. 495/49/72-Cus VI dated 03.10.1972 which contains a clear direction as: “A passenger may be allowed to import one or two pets, provided their value falls within his duty free allowance under the Baggage Rules. The pets should be released only after verification of necessary Health Certificates from the place of import.” This also implies that in case the value is more than the available free allowance, duty at the relevant baggage rate can be charged as there is no other option left.

What are Other Instructions?

Later, the Board vide circular No. 9/2002-Cus., dated 30.01.2002 issued with reference to the instructions contained in the letter F. No. 450/44/2001-Cus. IV (Pt. II) dated 24th September, 2001 reiterated that bonafide pet animals brought by passengers be allowed to be brought into the country only against an import sanitary permit issued by the Department of Animal Husbandry & Dairying or against an import licence issued by the DGFT as is done in the case of other live animals. This stand was later re-examined vide circular No. 94/2002-Cus., dated 23.12.2002 wherein it was decided to allow the import of pets (dog and cat only) up to two numbers per passenger at one time subject to the production of the required health certificate from the country of origin and examination of the said pets by the concerned Quarantine Officer.

What is the Practice at the Airports?

        At the International Airports the pets are reportedly being cleared freely without any regard to their value – may be their value is within the available free allowance of the passenger bringing them. But what about the passengers going for short trips and bringing one or two costly puppies with them? They cannot even be termed pets. The Board’s official website http://www.cbec.gov.in also shows that domestic pets like dogs, cats, birds, etc. are permitted to be imported; that the import of pets (dog and cat only) upto two numbers per passenger are allowed at one time subject to production of required health certificate from the country of origin and examination of the said pets by the concerned quarantine officer and that the imports of pets over and above this quantity shall be allowed only against an import sanitary permit issued by the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying or against an import licence issued by the DGFT. There is no mention of any dutiability on these pets and in case a passenger argues on the basis of this “Travellers’ Information” that the pets are duty free, he cannot be faulted.

        In case any passenger writes to the Quarantine Officer of the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying & Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India about one’s intention of bringing his pets along with him, he happily gives permission with a direction that the importer shall take the pet to the Quarantine station for a clinical examination once it is cleared through customs. There is also a note that the pets would be kept under quarantine observation for a period of 30 days. It is not known whether anybody has ever taken their pets for this examination and quarantine observation as there is no documentation on the import of pets at the International Airports. No Quarantine Officer is posted at the Airports also.

What about Pets Coming Unaccompanied?

There are a lot of instances where pets are being imported as unaccompanied baggage through the cargo complexes. However, while the Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport takes a liberal approach in the case of import of pets as accompanied baggage, the Sahar Air Cargo Complex, situated at the same airport, have a very different set of rules. They do not consider the pets as baggage at all. The passengers are forced to file normal Bills of Entry and the pets are assessed, charged to duty and cleared as an import of any other animal. The hapless passengers are made to pay fine for not having IEC numbers and licences! This, probably, may be because of the ghosts of the ill fated sea lions of the Russian Circus still haunting the pets arriving there!

How can a Pet be Classified?

As already pointed out by the Hon’ble High Court in the case law cited supra, there is no such species of animal called “Pet animal”. They can only be classified in the CTH pertaining to the particular animal species.

How to Value a Pet Animal?

Section 14 deals with the valuation of goods for purposes of assessment and the sub-section (1) reads as: “(1) For the purposes of the Customs Tariff Act, 1975, or any other law for the time being in force, the value of the imported goods and export goods shall be the transaction value of such goods ………” It is true that puppies or kittens are traded and can be bought and sold. But they cannot be called a “Pet” at that juncture. When a person becomes fond of an animal or bird it may be said to have become a “pet” of that person and can be called a “pet animal”. It is also true that normally pet dogs do not change owners. Once the animal becomes a pet, there, normally, is no trade or transaction and so a transaction value will not be available. So what is the next option? Add all the rearing and caring expenditure to the original purchase price or measure the fondness of the owner towards the pet? A senior Officer once said that the valuation of a pet can be done taking into account the age of the pet, i.e. young and healthy or old and closer to its normal life expectancy; its capability to reproduce, i.e. in the reproductive age, old or castrated; etc. But, is this argument legally tenable?

What if Anybody Breaks the Practice?

In cases where a passenger imports a pet animal or any animal for that matter, in contravention to the restrictions there is practically no facility to house them or quarantine or rehabilitate them at any of the International Airport in India. Recently, shoals of fishes imported clandestinely at one of the International Airport were immediately re-exported to the Country of origin. However, there was no one to accept them at that end resulting in a situation where the same Customs Officers here had to accept the carcass of these unlucky pets for cremation without documentation. There was also an incident where more than 25 African Parrots were killed due to suffocation. Will the Board bother to issue instructions to all the Airlines not to accept these types of baggage so that such cruelty to the animals can be avoided?

What are the Practices in Other Countries?

Developed countries like US and UK are rather strict in their health regulations to avoid contagious diseases. Mostly, there is no dutiability on the pets being imported. However, pet dogs and cats are subject to inspection at ports of entry and are denied entry into the United States if they have evidence of an infectious disease that can be transmitted to humans. Dogs and cats must have a certificate showing that they have been vaccinated against rabies at least 30 days prior to entry into the United States. Puppies and kittens that are too young to be vaccinated (i.e. less than 3 months of age) must be kept in confinement until they are old enough to be vaccinated, and then confined for at least 30 days after the date of vaccination. There are no separate CDC regulations for dogs to be used for commercial purposes. There are no CDC regulations regarding the importation of live fish, snakes or lizards, but does limit imports of small turtles. Pets are generally transported as baggage, and they go through the same procedures as baggage. If a pet does not require quarantine at the port of entry, then an international traveler can pick up both luggage and the pet at the baggage claim, go through customs, then re-check both luggage and the pet for the domestic flight to their final destination. Dogs, cats, and turtles are free of customs duty. Other pets imported into the United States, if subject to a customs duty, may also be included in the duty exemption if they accompany the passenger and are imported for personal use and not for sale. To bring a pet dog or cat into the UK under PETS from one of the listed countries it must be first micro-chipped, vaccinated against rabies and then blood tested. For animals being transported in an EU country, they should have an EU pet passport. Countries like Croatia, Gibraltar, Norway, San Marino and Switzerland are also issuing passports to pets. Pets flying must travel as manifested cargo and not as accompanied baggage into the UK.

        CBEC frames the Rules and Regulations for each and every function it administers. When will the CBEC look into the pet problems and issue a consolidated regulation for the hassle free importation of pets and other animals into the country.

Author : M.P. Vasudevan - 11-03-2011