CHENNAI: They may be some of the most successful sportspersons the country has ever produced, but India’s shooters had to go through a harrowing ordeal at the Indira Gandhi Airport on Tuesday.
The athletes, including rifle and pistol shooters Gurpreet Singh, Chain Singh, Omkar Singh, Sushil Ghale and Harpreet Singh, and trap shooters Ria Rajeshwari Kumari, Seema Tomar and Kynan Chenai were on their way back from the World Cup in Cyprus and had landed in New Delhi at around 4.30 am. On most days, it would take an hour or so to clear customs. But on Tuesday, the shooters had to spend more than 12 hours, waiting in the arrival lobby without food and even a place to sit.
They were detained on arrival by Customs officials who told them that they could not release their guns without consent from Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, because of a recent Meerut incident where a national-level shooter had returned with more than 25 pistols. They were informed that DRI officials would arrive by 10am. But they ended up waiting for more than half a day.
“We did not even have a place to sit. The lobby we were waiting in didn’t have a cafe or anything, and the only thing we had all day was water. No breakfast or lunch,” one of the shooters told Express.
“This is the first time we waited for more than 12 hours,” said another shooter who has won medals at Asian and Commonwealth Games.
Many shooters had connecting flights that they missed. Express understands that Kynan Chenai was supposed to take a 7am flight out of Delhi, which he rebooked for 11 am.
After missing that, he booked another for 1pm and ended up having to book a fourth time. He finally took a late night flight to Hyderabad.
Their ordeal was finally was over around 5 pm when they were declared good to go. Ironically, DRI officials ended up not even checking their papers.
National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) president Raninder Singh, whose daughter Ria was among the shooters detained, took to Twitter.
“Nobody is more perturbed when issues like the non-clearance of our teams’ weapons by customs at IGI crops up, than us at the NRAI,” he tweeted.
“The DRI and ministry of finance had changed the re-import rules a day or so ago — customs I hope temporarily no longer has the power to clear weapons for export, declared reimport or import unless the designated DRI official is physically present at the customs desk in every airport in India. It’s not NRAI or athlete-specific. It’s for all citizens until they decide otherwise. Criticism is welcome but NRAI like all Indians must comply. I understand the frustration of our athletes sitting for so long waiting for the DRI inspector.”