The quantum of gold smuggling went up during the period in which economic activities were gradually unlocked after Covid, said the Smuggling in India Report 2021-22, referring to the high number of seizures by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence.
In all there were 160 cases of seizure of gold by the DRI, involving 833.07 kg of the metal worth `405.35 crore last fiscal.
The jump in gold smuggling was also highlighted by Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who unveiled the report on Monday at the 65th Founding Day of the DRI. The FM had noted that there seemed to be some linkage between very high import of gold and smuggling. Imports of gold were high in March and August 2021.
The largest number of seizures were in October last year when 25 such cases of gold smuggling were detected involving 90.25 kg of the metal worth `44.08 crore. As much as 144.43 kg of gold valued `70.96 crore was also seized in 22 cases in November. March 2022 recorded 22 cases of seizure of 50.01 kg of gold worth `26.56 crore.
The report noted that the economic devastation and loss of employment due to the Covid-19 pandemic led to many migrant workers in the Gulf losing their jobs who were desperate to come back home. A number of them were lured into smuggling small quantities of gold into India.
“Their economic and psychological distress was taken advantage of by certain unscrupulous agents, who lured such helpless migrant workers into smuggling small quantities of gold, mostly in paste and powder form, into India,” the report said, adding that the DRI and the Customs booked a series of such cases in 2021-22.
It revealed that gold was being smuggling in various ingenious forms such as concealed in machinery parts by trans-national crime syndicates even during the pandemic.
In a significant shift from the trend noticed in 2019-20, the largest amount of gold seized by the DRI in 2020-21 and 2021-22, was of Myanmar origin as compared to 2019-20, when the largest originating country or region of smuggled gold was west Asiathe Middle East.
“During the pandemic, due to the widespread disruption to air traffic, there was a rise in the instances of gold smuggling by land routes (road or rail),” it further said.
Interestingly, the report also found that during the pandemic, several instances of smuggling of restricted or prohibited consumer items like mobile phones, e-cigarettes, and their pods through the Foreign Post Office, were noticed.
“The reason for the surge in this mode of smuggling could be on account of the emphasis on ‘contact-less delivery’ with the least human interface during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic,” it said.