KOCHI: It’s a tough time for intelligence and enforcement officials working at the state’s airports.
Not only do they have to work under the fear of contracting coronavirus disease (COVID-19) from any of the arriving passengers, but also ensure that smugglers are not using the panic to smuggle gold into the state, especially from Southeastern and West Asian countries.
While the agencies are on alert, officials fear they are vulnerable to getting infected by the deadly virus as they are engaged in screening passengers, including frisking them, at the airports daily.
Sources in the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau said intelligence and enforcement officials and personnel are wary of handling passengers arriving from countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia. At the same time, there has been a noticeable rise in smuggling cases in which gold sourced from Singapore and Bangkok was intercepted at the airports in recent weeks.
On Tuesday itself, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence sleuths at Kochi airport intercepted a couple that arrived from Bangkok with 2.55kg of gold. A similar attempt by a passenger from Singapore was also detected at the airport recently.
“The agencies concerned have been asked to stay alert and adequately equip their officials who inspect passengers and baggage. With COVID-19 cases being reported from people arriving from Gulf countries, agencies have to be on alert as most gold smuggling attempts are made by passengers from the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia,” said an official.
Customs Commissioner Sumit Kumar said Customs officials working at the airports were vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 infection. He also said no smuggling attempts linked to COVID-19 had been reported so far.
“Our officers handle several thousands of passengers, including those arriving from COVID-19-hit countries, at the airports. Still, they are alert. The situation is similar for CISF officials, airport staffs and airline crew,” Sumit said.
A Customs officer said no steps had been taken at the airports to ensure their safety. “Officials are frisking passengers without any protective gear. We have not been provided masks,” said the officer. “Though officials are apprehensive, they are still alert,” he said.