New delhi: The customs department has asked the Department of Posts to completely computerise the Foreign Post Offices in the country in order to check smuggling through FPOs.
The matter came up for discussion at a recent review meeting after it was noticed that people were misusing the FPOs to smuggle in various prohibited goods and evade import duty, official sources said today.
The customs officials expressed concern over the functioning of FPOs where most of the work is done manually without adequate staff. In the national capital, the FPO is situated about 25 km away from the airport and all the parcels coming from abroad are brought there without proper scanning, they said. An effective mechanism to cross check the parcel, its contents and details of duty paid is also not in place, the sources said.
Taking note of the situation, the customs department recently wrote to Department of Posts asking it to ensure complete computerisation of the FPOs.
“We have asked the postal department to automate all the processes at FPOs. We have also asked them to consider providing adequate working space and logistics for smooth working,” said S R Baruah, Commissioner (Export) at Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) here. The move came after the customs officials recently seized air rifles, pistols, narcotics, memory cards and cigarettes among others from the FPOs. These items were misdeclared as clothes.
On an average, 5,000 parcels (booked through speed post and registered) in export, and 3,500 parcels in imports, are handled per day at the foreign post office here.
There is always the apprehension that smugglers would try to exploit the lacunae in the functioning of FPOs as the work process is manual. Most of the illegal things may happen when the parcels are in transit after landing at the airport and being taken in government vehicles to FPO in the ITO area, the sources said.
They feel that besides automation shifting of FPO to the IGI airport would solve the problem to a large extent. Private courier companies like DHL and others are already working from the exclusive space allotted to them at the airport, the sources said.
As the private courier companies are already operating from the airport terminal, the postal department too should shift the FPO so that things can be managed in a better way. Also, there is facility for sorting and checking of suspect parcels at the airport, the sources said. Over 50 air rifles, pistols and large quantities of pellets have been seized from Delhi Foreign Post Office in the past few months, they said.
As per rules, only those who have licence from national and state rifle associations can import air rifles and pistols.
On Tuesday, three consignments were checked by customs officials who found cigarettes and memory cards of foreign brands in them. Two consignments had 168 cartons of cigarettes of brands like Benson and Hedges, Dunhill and Pine valued at about Rs 3.13 lakh.
In the third parcel, 4,320 memory cards of 8 GB capacity each were seized by the customs officials. The parcels had come from Hong Kong, the sources said. In 2015-16, 13 consignments of narcotic drugs heroin and ketamine weighing 1.2 kg and valued at Rs 6.13 crore were seized, they said.
The sources said similar seizures have been reported from other FPOs across the country.
What is worrying for the customs officials is the dual control over the foreign post offices.
“It becomes difficult to take any corrective steps as foreign post offices are under administrative control of the postal department whereas most of the staff of customs department (which is under the Finance Ministry) work at these post offices,” a source said.