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Can’t tea vendor aspire to be CM, asks Bombay HC

IANS | Panaji |

The Bombay High Court has chided elitist overtones of a 23-year-old Customs appellate tribunal order for questioning the rise of controversy-prone Goa politician Churchill Alemao from tea boy to Chief Minister.

The order issued on Tuesday by Justice G.S. Patel and Justice Nutan Sardessai, quashing the 2004 order of the Customs, Excise and Service Tax Appellate Tribunal (CESTAT) declaring Churchill, his brother Ciabro and Joaquim as gold-smugglers, also questions the swashbuckling account of a Customs officer, who in 1991 chased the former CM’s brother Alvernaz, who was allegedly smuggling gold and killed the latter in a gunfight.

Picking a quote from the tribunal’s order “Churchill Alemao started his life as a tea-boy and rose to become the Chief Minister of Goa. Democracy at its very best”, the HC order decried the its deprecatory overtones.

“We fail to understand what, if anything, this is supposed to mean. That those who stand for elections and rise to the highest echelons of political prominence should be only the elite? Or that no tea-vendor may so aspire? We dare say the CESTAT member who wrote this would be rather more reticent today,” it said.

“That statement says far more about the writer’s complete lack of understanding of the fundamentals of a democratic republic governed by the rule of law than he imagines,” it also reads.

Alemao was chief minister of Goa from March 27, 1990 to April 22, 1990 and has been controversial in his numerous stints as legislator as well as Member of Parliament. In 2015, he was arrested by the Goa Police Crime Branch for his involvement in the Louis Berger bribery case. He has also been detained under the National Security Act.

The 2004 CESTAT order however, specifically dealt with the long-standing case, in which the Alemao brothers were accused of smuggling gold, after a consignment was dramatically caught in 1991 by Customs official Costao Fernandes at Varca beach, which was known for contraband landings, during which Alvernaz was killed.

Justices Patel and Sardessai have however picked holes in the Tribunal’s order for its tenor and endorsement of officer Fernandes’ gung-ho.

“Fernandes is described as a ‘lone ranger’ and a ‘one man army’. This is law, not a film script,” they observed.

A reference to the death of Alvernaz Alemao as “wasted” has elicited a sharp response in the Court’s order.

“This is not the language of the law. It is not what we expect – ‘no, demand’ – from Tribunals in our jurisdiction. This case had nothing that justified this sneering, sniping superciliousness. Sobriety is everything in matters like this, and to use language of this stripe trivializes something fundamental,” the HC order says.

It also says, that he CESTAT ruling relied on “pungent story telling” techniques rather than combination of proof and evidence to arrive at a conclusion.

“In our considered view, there is no substitute for evidence and proof, and no amount of pungent story-telling can make up for it; nor is it permissible to borrow selectively and out-of-context from one order while ignoring another that is much closer to the issues at hand, or to misread and misunderstand the purport of a statute,” the order reads.