National Security threat at Dubai firm-run Kochi port

via VR Jayaraj | Kochi - Daily Pioneer published on November 4, 2011

Lack of proper Customs-check facility at eight-month-old International Container Transshipment Terminal (ICTT) at Vallarpadam, Kochi, built and operated by Dubai Ports World (DP World), is posing threats to national security as it is seen as a safe transit point for contraband by smugglers, thanks to the argument that Customs inspections are not allowed in the SEZ.

It is now alleged that smugglers and anti-national forces inside and outside the country are cashing in on the “special provision” and that even China is getting raw materials for its music instrument industry from India at cheap prices due to this. The Customs Department says that the terminal is not immune to on-port Customs inspections as per Section 47 of the SEZ Act.

The extent to which the Customs-no-entry norm at the terminal can affect national economy and security had come to light last week after the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) confiscated in an early morning raid a container with 17 tonnes of contraband red sandalwood destined for China through Dubai and Hong Kong from the Vallarpadam ICTT.

Investigations have suggested that the red sandalwood was sourced from Kadappa and Chittoor, Maoist-infested areas in Andhra Pradesh. Anil Kumar of Palakkad, local kingpin of the racket, has told the DRI that he had trade links with Maoists there. “This, in effect, is equivalent to Indian Maoists sending things to the land of Mao,” said an official half-jokingly.

Anil Kumar has also told the DRI that the chiefs of the racket, Shafeeq from Thalassery in Kannur and Shahul Hameed of Chennai, are handling the operations from their base at Dubai, the headquarters of DP World. The DRI officials had to call in the help of the local police after ICTT security staff disallowed them to enter the terminal premises during the raid last week.

The DRI has learned that red sandalwood worth a minimum of Rs 50 crore had left the ICTT for Dubai to be re-routed to Chinese ports since the commissioning of the terminal in February last. “It proves that anything can be smuggled out through the terminal as we are not allowed to run an on-port inspection facility there,” said a senior Customs official.

At present, the Customs clearance of containers shipped from the ICTT is being done at the department’s office on Willingdon Island a few km away from the terminal. The contents of the container cleared by the customs as rubber mat last week were switched by the red sandalwood smugglers on its way to the terminal from the Customs clearing centre.

The Customs has several times taken up the issue of the security threats their absence on the spot at the terminal was causing but the SEZ authorities have refused to respond positively. The DP World, however, washes its hands off the matter saying that the terminal security is being looked after by CISF personnel under instructions from the SEZ development commissioner.

Customs officials the other day boycotted a meeting called by SEZ development commissioner MS Rao saying there was nothing to be discussed and that the only thing needed was the development commissioner’s approval for a formal request the Customs had made seeking permission to run an inspection facility at the terminal.

An official said that all ports in India were bound to abide by the law that imports and exports could not be carried out in the country without the Customs’ knowledge. The licence agreement of the Vallarpadam project had clearly stated that import and export had to be done here also as per this law, he added.

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