Chandigarh, July 31 (IANS) The launch of flights abroad from the Chandigarh International Airport was much awaited and began with a lot of fanfare. But the airport is also making news for the wrong reasons with large seizures of gold being smuggled in here from the Gulf.
In the 10 months since the first international flight took off from here on September 15 last year, customs officials at the airport have seized gold valued at over Rs 90 lakh ($140,000) from inbound passengers.
Chandigarh is linked to Dubai and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) via direct flights operated by Indigo Airlines and Air India, respectively.
In July itself, three incidents of gold smuggling have been reported from the airport — the seizures worth about Rs 36 lakh.
The most startling incident was on July 10 when a man from Ulhasnagar in Maharashtra was caught smuggling 407 grams (41 tolas) of gold hidden in his rectum. The man had to be taken to the washroom to recover the gold, valued at over Rs 11 lakh.
Travellers from the airport say that security and screening for international flights needs to be beefed up.
“Even though they have a good security system at the airport, things should be made tighter with better technology and equipment. Otherwise, the airport will get a bad name and genuine passengers will be harassed,” N. Soni, a trader who takes flights to Dubai from here, told IANS.
Customs and security officials on July 26 caught two people from Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh who were carrying over 350 grams of gold worth nearly Rs 10 lakh, concealed under a white tape wrapped around tiffin boxes filled with biryani.
“Most of the people who are smuggling gold through the Chandigarh airport are not from the region, even though a number of expats working in the Gulf region are from Punjab and Haryana. We are keeping a strict watch on passengers coming on flights from the UAE,” a customs official told IANS.
Recently, a man from Punjab’s Batala town was caught smuggling 540 grams of gold. This was concealed in the beading (lining) of his suitcase.
The single biggest seizure was made earlier this year in which a man was caught with nearly 1.3 kg of gold, valued at Rs 37 lakh, after he landed here from Dubai.
“The people who bring the gold are just carriers. Their handlers are based in Dubai and other places. The gold is being smuggled as the market rate is 15-20 per cent higher in India,” the customs official added.
Gold brought legally attracts customs duty of 36 per cent.
Under the existing rules, women passengers are allowed to carry or import gold worth Rs 1 lakh (about 3.5 tolas) and men are allowed to import gold worth Rs 50,000 (about 1.8 tolas) without attracting the customs duty.
“The Chandigarh airport is a target for the gold smugglers from the UAE as they feel that the security and checking here is not as strict as other airports which get flights from the UAE. Since this is a new airport, the screening equipment and checking are being improved,” a security official at the airport said.
Other than gold, customs officials have seized cartons of branded cigarettes worth nearly Rs 10 lakh from travellers from Dubai and Sharjah.
Nearly 20 smuggling attempts have been foiled at the airport so far.
Besides the two international flights from and to Chandigarh, the airport has seen a spurt in domestic connectivity with other major cities in the country in recent months.
(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at [email protected])