news Tuesday, February 17, 2015 - 05:30
Sameera Ahmed | The News Minute | February 17, 2015 | 05.20 pm IST Monkeys and falling tiles are the least of the worries for customs officials at the Chennai international airport where not just passengers but kilograms of drugs and gold find their way in and out of the country. On February 12, Thursday, eight kilogram of gold were seized from two passengers travelling in from Muscat and Riyadh. With gold valued at Rs. 2.5 crore approximately, the passengers were booked under smuggling charges. This is just one of the many passengers caught at the busy airport. “In the last financial year from April, over 100 seizes were made at the airport,” says Usha Devi, assistant commissioner of Customs(Airport & Air Cargo). However, according to a list obtained from the Malaysian embassy, 68 Indian passengers travelling from different cities in India are now languishing in Malaysian jails over drug-smuggling charges. According to S Jamal, a frequent traveller from Chennai who has written a number of complaints about alleged wrongdoings practices by the Customs, to whom the list was given, he questioned if the Indian airport customs officials were incompetent enough that 68 Indian passengers had managed to slip past customs and travel to a new country. Out of the 68 passengers listed in the copy with The News Minute, a majority of them had travelled out of Chennai. "How does a passenger carrying 48 kg of drugs on him pass through airport customs without them noticing," questioned Jamal. “Nothing is done without the setting of officers,” he alleged, referring to Customs officials as he explained the split-up of money between officials for allowing high-value goods to be passed without hindrance. “Some of those in foreign jails will be given harsh sentences. If our customs officials could have caught them, this could have been avoided,” he said. However, Usha Devi rubbished the claims made by the man pointing out that considering that logic, that would mean that even international airports in developed countries like Singapore were incompetent as a number of passengers flying in from various countries are caught in India. “Singapore is a well advanced country. They wanted details of passengers caught here,” she said indicating that airports world-wide had difficulties in nabbing passengers carrying suspicious goods. However, she highlighted the difficulty in screening every passenger coming through customs. “ We have one third the staff strength that we had a decade back,” she added. We only pick and question frequent travellers who look suspicious, she said explaining the technical difficulties in checking every passenger. The Air Intelligence Unit, she says, has only eight staff instead of the 20 required. For the officials at the airport, managing and screening each passenger appears to be a herculean task considering the available manpower. Earlier, according to a news report, four customs officials had been caught on camera accepting money in order to allow the easy passage of high value electronic goods. Jamal had then written a letter addressed to the Prime Minister and copied to all relevant departments including Central Vigilance Commissioner and 13 others, complaining over the lack of action taken against the erring officials. “No one responds to my complaints. They give vague responses to avoid answering,” he said. Accusing the department of inaction, he wrote in his letter, “Who was the Assistant Commissioner of Customs on duty roster at the time and what action has been taken against him and whether vigilance a case was booked against him for serious and gross negligence , if not willful collusion?” Devi in turn, who has also been named in the complaint defended the department’s decision to transfer the officers in question instead of suspending or dismissing them. “On suspicion, we have transferred the officials. After forensic investigation , we will take action,” she said questioning how one could take action without determining the veracity of the videos in question. If Jamal, has over a dozen books containing complaints against Customs officials and their alleged activities, the Customs department in turn pointed out his history as a jailed inmate in a ‘cheating’ case in which he had been caught earlier. While Usha Devi has been named in his complaint, Jamal is well known for having written complaints against the Customs departments for almost two decades. Using the choicest of words to describe him, Devi explained that Jamal was famous in airport circles for his antics drawing attention to himself during his frequent travel abroad. Tweet Follow @thenewsminute

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