Woman’s footwear without back strap is sandal, not chappal: HC

New Delhi: A woman’s footwear without a back strap is a sandal, the Delhi High Court has ruled opposing the government’s contention that it was a ‘chappal’.

The issue assumed significance as the export of sandals attract a 10 per cent customs duty drawback, while that of ‘chappals’ attracted only five per cent duty.

The government had withdrawn a 10 per cent duty drawback given to a footwear manufacturer saying the footwear exported by it were ‘chappals’ as these did not have back strap. The Delhi High Court, while ruling that these were sandals, quashed the government’s decision.

Disagreeing with the government’s view, a bench of justices S Ravindra Bhat and Najmi Waziri ruled, “The respondents (Centre and the Revenue Department), in our opinion, acted upon prejudice and a preconceived notion that ladies sandals cannot be without a back strap”.

It said in view of the totality of circumstances, “this court is of the opinion that the impugned orders, upholding duty drawback withdrawal and imposing penalty cannot be sustained. They are hereby quashed”.

The court said that an expert body, Council of Leather Exports which routinely dealt with such issues in context of export, had, based on evidence and instructions of government, furnished an opinion that goods were sandals and not chappals.

It also said there was no evidence to hold that the Council’s opinion was insufficient.

“Apart from these, the court wonders whether any of the experts in this case was a woman, the ultimate customer. In such cases, the commercial parlance test would predominate,” the bench observed.

The court’s order came on a plea by Chennai-based footwear manufacturer, Wishall International, challenging the government’s position that a woman’s footwear without a back strap was a chappal and not a sandal.

The firm in May 2003 had filed a shipping bill to export the consignment declared as “ladies leather sandals” claiming 10 per cent customs duty drawback. The Customs Department here, however, had said the export consignment were chappals.

The company, however, had sought opinion from the Council of Leather Exports which had cleared the export consignment as sandals.

But the Customs department approached the Council that sought the opinion of Footwear Design and Development Institute (FDDI), which ruled that the products were chappals.

Following this, the Customs served a show-cause notice on the company, demanding recovery of the drawback already paid at 10 per cent as well as a penalty.