Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Smugglers cash in on BIA ‘chink’

Smugglers cash in on BIA ‘chink’
Customs does not have its own X-ray machines for outbound baggage

The spurt in seizures of contraband drugs at Bangalore International Airport in recent months makes one wonder what the flaw in the airport set-up is. The answer is apparently simple: the customs department’s lack of X-ray machines.
“In spite of repeated requests to the BIAL authorities, we have not been allowed to install our own X-ray machine to check outbound baggage,” some customs officials said.
“Cases where we have seized contraband were based on our own intelligence and not through detection machines. The large consignment of hashish detected recently had passed the five-layered X-ray machines installed by BIAL for security purposes and was discovered only while the carrier was about to board the flight,” they said.
The customs officials said they had their own X-ray machines at the erstwhile HAL airport. Carriers of contraband were aware of that and thought twice before smuggling anything out. But they had become bolder now, knowing that the customs department did not have its own X-ray machine at BIA.
Besides, HAL airport had different conveyor belts for domestic and international baggage. At BIA, there is no such segregation of baggage, making it difficult for customs officials to concentrate on international baggage.
The customs officials said, “The BIA X-ray monitoring staff have only 20 seconds to decide whether to allow baggage to pass through or not. They just check whether the baggage has any articles that are unsafe for the aircraft or the airport. They give a go-by if they have any doubts about contraband.”
Some of them questioned the logic of the BIAL management in allowing the customs department to have its own X-ray machines for incoming baggage but not for outgoing baggage.
The staff crunch is another concern. According to a customs official, the staff are deputed from the central excise department. Even the Air Intelligence Unit has a manpower shortage. Unlike at Hyderabad and Chennai, the unit here has to struggle with only 30 per cent of its sanctioned strength. A senior official from the department of central excise and customs said, “As Bangalore is an inland customs area, the staff crunch has not been taken seriously by the authorities.” But seeing the growing number of cases of contraband smuggling from BIA, it’s high time the authorities revised their view.
Customs department doesn’t have own x-ray machine at BIA
No segregation of baggage
Just 20 seconds to decide
Staff crunch


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