DRI Director General Najib Shah has sent a letter to Rohit Nandan, chairman and managing director of Air India, listing some cases involving the national carrier’s crew, flight engineers and ground handlers. “We have told the airline that the attitude of their supervisors is very casual about the problem and the system needs to be robust, especially in smuggling-prone airports. We have been told that the employees involved have been suspended while an internal inquiry is being conducted,” said a DRI official. The department has sought details about the repeat offenders.
Air India did not respond to an email and SMS from The Indian Express on the issue.
DRI made some big gold seizures recently. In one incident, 32 kg of gold biscuits were found hidden in a toilet next to the cockpit in an Air India flight from Dubai to Chennai.
In another seizure, gold bars worth Rs 1.84 crore were seized from an Air India Express flight at the Calicut airport. Last month, the enforcement agency arrested two women crew member of an Air India Express flight at the Kozhikode airport for carrying 6 kg gold.
Most of the seizures have been made from Air India flights from Dubai and Bangladesh, said the official. The airline operates 10 daily flights from Dubai to six cities in the country, including one each to Thiruvananthapuram and Chennai. There are two flights from Kochi to Dubai.
Between April-November this year, DRI booked 576 cases of gold smuggling worth Rs 211 crore from all sources. In April-December last year, the figure stood at 617 cases worth Rs 52 crore.
“We are coming across cases where linkages between travel agents, syndicates, passengers and jewellers are coming to the fore. Smaller airports are more susceptible, including ports like Visakhapatnam, Mangalore, Coimbatore and Lucknow,” said the official.
Another official said there have been cases involving other airlines also. For instance, in the case of a foreign airline, the entire ground handling staff was alleged to be involved in the smuggling. Aided by crew members, traffic superintendents and other staff, they helped the carriers smuggle the gold out of the airport, said an official.
The increase in gold smuggling is seen to be a result of a whopping hike in duty to 10 per cent for gold bars and 15 per cent for jewellery, the 20:80 scheme of the RBI whereby 20 per cent gold has to be exported and the provision of upfront payment of customs duty.