Customs seeks X-ray scanner

There is no Kochi-specific threat of smuggling and the Customs authority follows uniform rules for examination of containers all over the country. Only in case of specific intelligence input does the Customs re-examine containers, which are sealed at freight stations in the presence of designated officials.

Uniform procedures were important to ensure smooth flow of business to avoid delays and allegations of partiality, said a senior official of the Customs department here on Thursday. He told The Hindu that import containers go through a more stringent process of examination while there is a difference in the intensity of examination of export containers.

Export consignments are examined more closely if the business entails accrual of benefits to the exporter under government incentive schemes. However, in case of free shipping bills the procedure is less intense.

Last Sunday’s incident in which logs of red sandalwood were hidden under coir pith involved a container under free shipping bill.

The Customs official pointed out that the modus operandi differed in both the cases of attempts to smuggle red sanders via Kochi over a period of one year.

In the first case in November last year, it was found that the door of the container that was sealed at the freight station was removed to replace the initial cargo of rubber sheets. In last Sunday’s case it was found that logs of red sanders were hidden under coir pith.

Meanwhile, the Customs authority here has written to the Central Board of Customs and Excise for an X-ray scanner though Kochi does not figure prominently in the present plan of the Central Board for deploying the facility.

In terms of the number of containers being handled, Kochi does not come anywhere close to other ports where the Board has presently sought to deploy scanners.

Orders have been placed for X-ray scanners at Chennai, Mundhra, Mumbai, Kandla and at Tughlakabad. However, once the scanners are sourced they can be deployed anywhere .

Kochi handled a little more than three lakh TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent unit) last financial year. Nhava Sheva terminal, which is the only facility in the country with an X-ray scanner, handles five million TEUs yearly.

The seizure of red sanders here did not mean that Kochi was particularly vulnerable to smuggling. Attempts to smuggle products and produces, including red sanders, continue to be reported from different parts of the country, he said.

He said even installation of an X-ray scanner would not solve all the problems. Only about 10 per cent of the containers are scanned at Nhava Sheva as 100 per cent scanning was impossible and cause inordinate delays.

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