Excising Your Belongings Part Of Their Customs

Veeresh Malik

Feb 25, 2015, 11:30 AM | Updated Feb 11, 2016, 08:34 AM IST

Anything beyond Rs 10 currency notes, if undeclared, will be seized from you by the Indian Customs and Central Excise at the port or airport of your destination. You could also be physically roughed up, says this veteran from merchant navy.

One of the most feared arms of the justice delivery system of India has to be Indian Customs and Central Excise. You have to read the Acts and rules to understand their heritage, traditions and more that they perform their duties under to be able follow what draconian powers they can and will impose if you break the rules. Action on breaking the law is fair enough, considering how India’s economic safety both international and domestic, is what our larger security as a nation is also all about and not just about boots on the ground carrying guns. But there is more to the story.

It’s when the rules are designed in such a way that breaking them is not just inevitable but part of the larger picture that the fun begins.

For most in India’s population, the only interaction they would have with the customs would be in the course of travelling, mostly by air. Or, lately, with Central Excise towards paying or deducting service tax. That part, to a large extent unless you happen to be unskilled or semi-skilled labour returning from abroad or travelling home within India, has been handled very well with some really slick public relations.

But I have been a ‘shippie’ and faced the ravages of the “Rummaging Gang” as they were called, coming on board and counting every currency note in our possession, and God alone could help us if any of them were over Rs 10 denomination. You could and would be beaten up if you had not declared every calculator on the bridge or the engine room or went ashore with an undeclared umbrella! I have experienced their vagaries and mood swings while signing on and signing off ships in Indian ports.

On one glorious occasion, escorting the dead body of a sailor and being tasked with also taking an inflatable liferaft ashore for repairs, I had the experience of a lifetime, being asked to keep the dead body with me while the sahib log decided what was to be done with the inflatable liferaft. They wanted me to open it in their office, which on a ship involves tying a short painter (rope) to a strong point and then throwing the liferaft overboard so that it literally explodes open before hitting the water, casting the covers aside with the force of an ejection seat.

The height was when my wife’s purse was inspected for possible contraband, and a bar of chocolate that she was carrying was seized and placed in the table drawer without as much as a bye your leave. That was about the time I decided enough was enough and there were better ways to earn a livelihood. To give credit where due, she retrieved the bar of chocolate when the inspector went out for a while.

But Customs and Central Excise really come into their own in the freight and cargo business. There, again, I have worked for the best of shipping lines ashore and for a while also been a freight forwarder and cargo import agent. If you want a ground-level introduction to how this wing of the justice delivery system in the country is in a class by itself on the basis of heritage and tradition, this is a profession you must get experience of in your lifetime at least once, because it is the best education you will get about the real India.

The JDS pertaining to the movement of goods and commerce in, out and within India is the biggest fly in the ‘Make in India’ ointment that is being promoted by our present government. In the next essay, I tell you more about it, anecdotal and systematic.

Veeresh Malik is an Ordinary Citizen of India who has done many different things involving the JDS and will now start taking the mickey out of the JDS of India, no holds are barred, no benches are not scorned.

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