THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The Thiruvananthapuram International Airport once enjoyed the status of being one of the toughest airports in the country for smuggling rackets to operate. Being situated in the state capital, the airport is frequented by high-profile flyers and hence, security measures are top-notch. This prompted smuggling rackets, especially those dealing with gold, to confine their activities to other airports in the state. However, the scenario has largely changed over the years and now has fast become a preferred route for such rackets to smuggle their goods.
The last financial year, April 2018- March 2019, witnessed 100 cases related to smuggling gold in the Thiruvananthapuram airport.
The total quantity of gold seized was 48 kg. In the previous financial year, there were just 33 similar cases. And in 2016, only 17 kg gold was seized.
“This is an open airport. The tarmac area is not secured and can be accessed by anyone, without authorisation,” said a source in the Air Intelligence Unit of the Customs Department. “Of late there has been increased surveillance from our side. Hence there is a rise in the number of seizures and arrests,” the official said.
Added to the existing circumstance, smugglers have successfully recruited staff working for various airlines. Several airline staffs were among those arrested for their part in smuggling. Most of them are deployed on the basis of contract and are largely underpaid. This financial predicament is exploited by the rackets.
“The salary drawn by many employees range from I8,000- I12,000. This paltry pay makes them easy prey," said an intelligence source. Insiders said staff in collusion with the smuggling rackets get I20,000 for assisting to safely move about 500 gms of gold from the airport to the agents waiting outside. “If one can successfully assist in smuggling out 2 kg gold, he can earn up to J80,000,” a source said.
Meanwhile, an Intelligence Bureau official said the Customs department has been very flexible which is one of the primary reasons why the airport has become a point in conduit for the smugglers.