“Door-to-door,” an unauthorised courier system widely relied on by Gulf-based migrant workers to send packages home at less than air-freight rates, is also being used to smuggle contraband cigarettes into the State in trade quantities.
Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) sources say little-known foreign cigarette brands of dubious quality constituted nearly 30 per cent of such imports.
The contraband cigarettes often did not carry the statutory anti-tobacco health warning scrolls and are retailed on the street at far lower prices than those of Indian-made cigarettes, which are prohibitively taxed.
The growing domestic sale of contraband cigarettes, chiefly in metro cities, makes the Union government lose crores of rupees annually in terms of customs and excise duty.
In April this year, DRI agents seized 440 cartons of “Gudang Garang International Filter Kretek,” a foreign cigarette brand, from a “door-to-door” consignment. They valued the contraband at Rs.2.73 lakh. Contraband cigarettes are smuggled into the country also from Nepal and Bangladesh.
In April, the Mumbai police arrested a Yemeni couple on the charge of smuggling foreign cigarettes estimated at Rs.12 lakh in their air baggage. The country-wide seizures accounted only for a small fraction of the actual illegal import of foreign cigarettes.
“Door-to-door” consignments are imported under the guise of used household goods belonging to Indian citizens returning home after a considerable period of stay abroad.
The operators of the illegal courier service persuade such foreign returnees to lend their passports, often for money or a new job abroad, to import the consignments. The “name lender” is often a proxy having no real ownership over the goods imported in his name.
The “name lender” declares the contents of the consignment, actually belonging to the courier, as second-hand household items he had used while abroad. The courier can thus avail himself of the advantage of the low customs duty levied on imports of such nature while actually importing taxable goods of high value.
Official sources said that they suspect that certain corrupt officials facilitated the illegal courier service. The DRI in November issued show-causes notices to two senior officials at the unaccompanied baggage section of the air-cargo terminal here on the charge of abetting smuggling in connection with its seizure of contraband cigarettes.
Last week, the Central Bureau of Investigation inspected the unaccompanied baggage sections at the air-cargo terminals in the Kochi and the Kozhikode airports as part of its anti-corruption drive to prevent such illegal duty evasions. On November 25 in Chennai, the CBI arrested nine customs officials and some touts on the charge of accepting illegal gratification for undervaluing certain unaccompanied baggage consignments.