The Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Shamshabad usually gets into news either for an emergency landing of a flight, seizure of drugs or gold. Emergency landings are, of course, rare and the latter happen off and on. But that doesn’t mean customs officials do not have much to do! They come across passengers carrying a variety of things that will surprise you.
A few days back, a passenger from Singapore landed with a baggage and upon examination, the officials found a few electronic gadgets but the surprise package was neatly tucked inside __ 200 ornamental fish swimming in a small polythene bag. “It was a first of its kind incident where we found live fish being smuggled in a baggage. The passenger was coming from Singapore and was destined for Mumbai. Such people keep changing their entry and exit airports. May be, he was already known in Mumbai and thought Hyderabad was a safe exit for him,” said Vinayak Bhatt, assistant commissioner, Customs, RGIA. The market value of the fish was estimated to be Rs 1.5 lakh. Unfortunately, the fish could not be saved as they were not put in fresh oxygenated water. The incident has caused concern among the officials who fear that smuggling of fish could be followed by snakes etc. According to Bhatt, snakes, parrots and some endangered birds and animals are routinely seized in Mumbai and Chennai.
A daily headache!
But what is it that they seize daily at the airport? Toy helicopters! “These toy helicopters operated through radio or infra red are banned. We seize around 10-15 a day and it has become a big headache for us,” said Kalyan Revella, assistant commissioner, Customs, RGIA. According to him, the toy helicopters which interfere with radio-electronic communication could be used to breach security. “May be, they are available in the city, but here at airport, we cannot let it pass through. We are trying to educate people and discourage them from carrying these toys,” he added.
PC says so!
The announcement in the Union Budget on gold allowance for passengers has become another headache for these officers. The free allowance of gold jewellery for women has been extended up to Rs 1 lakh compared to only up to Rs 20,000 earlier, and Rs 50,000 for men as compared to Rs 10,000 earlier. “People have been misinformed. They know about this but are unaware of the clause which says that only those people who have lived abroad for a year or more can avail this benefit. If they go abroad for a week and come back with all that gold, we cannot accept it,” said Revella recalling a recent incident where a woman was caught wearing jewellery of 450 grams. “This is clear case of smuggling,” he observed. And recently, a senior official revealed, “we caught a man carrying gold in thermocol packets stuffed in his shoes.”
Short of women
Frisking a woman under suspicion too has been a problem for customs officials at the airport. One official, on condition of anonymity, said, “We are short of women staff and officers.
A lot of women passengers are indulging in smuggling and they find it very easy to conceal prohibited goods,” he said. According to him, this being a sensitive issue they cannot be all intrusive. “Unless we have a good enough reason to suspect anyone, we cannot lay hands on them.
They get very vociferous and abusive,” he added saying “our first job is tax collection. Since airport is quite far away from the city and ours is not a regular office job, women are not showing interest in working at the airport.”
Adding more, he said, “suspicious passengers will always give a hint from their passport itself- number of recent travels, name, place and body language etc.” Citing the fact that the airport is well connected to the Middle East and South East Asia, officials say, “party drugs are usually exported from Hyderabad to South East Asia”.