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Northeast pips Mumbai as smugglers' new haven

Friday, 26 July 2013 - 9:15am IST | Place: New Delhi | Agency: DNA
Shillong and Guwahati are fast emerging as preferred routes for narcotics, arms smuggling.

This is one list that Mumbai will be happy to not top.

Traditionally a hub for smugglers, the country’s financial capital no longer holds that rank.
Kolkata, Shillong and Guwahati have pipped Mumbai, according to customs department data.

A total of 35,500 cases of smuggling and commercial fraud were recorded in 2012-13 as compared to 33,251 cases in the previous year, according to data obtained from the Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC).

Of these, less than 5% cases were reported from Mumbai whereas Kolkata and Shillong accounted for over 64% of all the cases.

Northeastern cities are fast emerging as preferred places for narcotics and arms smuggling into the country largely because of the harsh terrain, isolated locations, porous borders and the lack of co-ordination between multiple agencies. The number of smuggling cases continues to be high partly because of lack of coordination between various agencies involved, such as the NCB, Customs, department of revenue intelligence, state police, Border Security Force, etc. Officials state that smugglers are avoiding Mumbai for two main reasons; strong measures by the Mumbai police and customs authorities since the 1993 serial blasts and other terror attacks and also because of lack of demand following the economic liberalization in 1991, which allowed import of textiles, machinery and gold — goods which were otherwise being smuggled.

As a result, smugglers have not only altered the smuggling hub from Mumbai to the northeast but also the goods that are smuggled. In the last 20 years, smugglers have gradually shifted focus from gold, silver and electronic goods to arms, ammunitions, explosives, fake currency notes and narcotic drugs, according to a 2007 annual report of finance ministry.

India shares a 2,216-km unfenced and partly fenced border with Myanmar, Nepal, China and Bangladesh. A 2006 ministry of finance study said that smuggling drugs was favoured. This is so of rising demand from the large student community in the northeast, as well as demand for narcotics from Myanmar, said M Kharkrang, superintendent of police of East Khasi Hills district. The study said that heroin and cannbis (hashish and ganja) regularly came into India through the Indo-Nepal border, from where the drugs found way to other parts of country via northeastern states, particularly through Manipur. A senior Narcotics Control Bureau officer too confirmed this.

The customs department (preventive), which is responsible for tackling smuggling cases, said smuggling of synthetic drugs like amphetamine and methamphetamine into and out of the northeast has been on the rise of late. Since these are controlled and not banned substances, it becomes difficult to frame charges against the perpetrators. “Smugglers are now entering Myanmar from Manipur and Mizoram. There are also cases where consignments heading to Bangladesh were seized,” a customs officer said on condition of anonymity.

Smuggling of arms and ammunition too has increased in the region due to insurgency. “There are people from a particular state, which I don’t want to name, who are smuggling weapons,” said SP Kharkrang. This is corroborated by the finance ministry’s 2006 report, which states that small weapons, mainly pistol of small calibre, have been brought by underground outfits in Manipur.

Fake Indian currency notes from Bangladesh too enter the country from the northeast, from where the notes are sent to Mumbai by railways and pushed into circulation. In addition, Chinese consumer electronic goods are smuggled from the Indo-Nepal and Indo-Myanmar borders, according to the report.

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