Customs unit at Calicut airport reeling under acute staff shortage

Gold worth ₹12 crore was seized in last one month

December 15, 2021 12:06 am | Updated 12:06 am IST - KOZHIKODE

The Kozhikode Customs unit has been reeling under acute staff shortage even as smuggling of gold is thriving via the Calicut International Airport.

Based on the volume of international and domestic travellers, reliable sources said the airport should ideally require about 145 Customs officials. The sanctioned strength of the Customs department is 78. But now the airport has less than 40 staff members on its rolls. Three superintendents were suspended a week ago after a large quantity of seized gold allegedly went missing from their custody. No replacement was made for a specified period of time, said the sources.

The Air Customs unit at the airport has three deputy superintendents, 15 superintendents, 17 inspectors and seven other officials. All of them work in three shifts.

Many officials have to endure additional burden despite the average number of flights a day coming down due to curtailed operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The average annual passenger traffic at the airport stood at 30-33 lakh, including 27 lakh international travellers, said sources.

In the past one month, the Customs Intelligence Unit of Kozhikode made gold seizures valued at ₹12 crore. The recoveries would have been better if the airport had adequate staff and more equipment, including closed-circuit television for video surveillance and X-ray machines, baggage scanners and metal detectors, added the sources.

Notable seizures this month include the recovery of 2.33 kg of gold from two passengers who arrived from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and 3.9 kg of gold from two passengers who arrived from Saudi Arabia.

Last month, Customs officials seized gold totalling 7.5 kg having market value of ₹3.71 crore in five seizures on a single day. They recovered 4.7 kg of gold from two passengers from Bahrain and the UAE.

In almost 90% of the cases, the passengers tried to smuggle gold in compound form concealed either in household utensils, electronic devices, undergarments, trousers and in the rectum.

Women passengers, who have been used as carriers, have been caught with the contraband stashed in body cavities. The rampant smuggling of gold was also linked to hawala rackets in many cases, said the sources.

The Customs department has been demanding that the Airports Authority of India should procure body scanners at the airport. However, nothing materialised due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Body scanners could scan for objects as well as enhance security at the airport, said officials.

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