Country's first museum of 'smuggled goods'

If you have a fascination for the ingenuity of smugglers, the modus operandi of excise evaders, the cunning of narcotics dealers, the Indian Customs and Central Excise National Museum being unveiled by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Goa on Saturday will give you a chance to satisfy your curiosity.

The museum, the first of its kind in the country, will house some priceless objects, most of them confiscated from smugglers and antique dealers over the years by the Customs and Central Excise. Objects like a prized Tibetan Jambala Buddha statue which was seized while being smuggled into India on the Nepal-UP border, were lying in the Customs strong-room in Gorakhpur. Worth over a crore rupees, the brass statue will now find a pride of place in Goa’s 409-year-old Customs House which has been remodelled into the museum.

A 17th century handwritten copy of Ain-i-Akbari (Institutes of Akbar, a detailed 16th century document recording the administration of Akbar’s empire) from Hyderabad, seized by the Customs on its way out of India, two elephant tusks 6 feet high and a molar are also among the rare items, as are shark’s jaws and a huge turtle shell.

Antiques and rare coins is not all the museum of “smuggled goods” is about, an entire gallery appropriately titled “Battle of Wits” has been dedicated to the modus operandi employed by the smugglers and the way in which they were outwitted by the Customs officials. On display in this section are items like chappals with false soles used by a foreigner who was trying to sneak heroin out of Goa.

With so many of the heritage pieces scattered in Customs offices across the country, the need was felt to put them in a special museum, said P C Jha, chairman of the Central Board of Excise and Customs. Though antiques are no longer a big item for smugglers, electronics, drugs and wildlife continue to be, he said.

The museum will open with 100 items on display and expand soon to a second phase.

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