Foreign cigarettes with not-for-sale tags being sold for cheaper prices is common in the City. Behind the racket are several small but efficient networks that smuggle in imported cigarettes, evading duties and violating norms, making it viable to be sold at cheap rates.
Cigarettes worth over Rs 15 lakh were seized at Bengaluru International Airport (BIA) last week.
The departments of Customs and Revenue Intelligence (DRI) together have begun a drive to smoke out smugglers.
“Not only do they supply not-for-sale cigarettes to shops, but they also make a dent in tax collection. So, we have been working very carefully and have managed to book several cases in the last few months,” a DRI official said.
Sources point out that because carrying one extra carton of cigarettes is not really a big offence, a lot of people tend to do it by mistake. But the problem is puffing up as several groups of persons, using this as the modus operandi, are actually smuggling them into the City.
A senior official from the Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) of the Customs Department said, “According to the rules, a person is allowed to carry only one carton of cigarettes amounting to 200 sticks during one foreign trip. However, there are several cases where they carry more.”
Generally, such people are related to persons who have shops selling cigarettes here, or are known to them. The source said these groups generally travel by flights at odd hours, as they come from outside the country.
“...Because they function in small groups, seizures made in each case are small. But on an average, cigarettes worth at least Rs 15 lakh are being smuggled into the City every week,” the source said.
It is difficult to get to the bottom of the case for the same reason.
However, officials at the airport, sources said, have been specifically briefed on smuggling of cigarettes and they are extra vigilant now.
“We have, in fact, managed to keep tabs on smuggling, but it is not completely out,” one of them said.
To boost their vigilance at BIA, the customs department has procured two more dogs (German shepherds) and their trainers through an outsourcing agreement with Biotools Private Limited.
The canines deployed at BIA for two weeks now have taken the number of sniffer dogs at the airport to four. “We were using two dogs belonging to the police department. With these two, we have enhanced the capacity,” an official said.
The main objective of the sniffer dog squad is to check smuggling of narcotics and cigarettes. The department is in the process of creating its own dog squad but the proposal is still on the drawing board.
The customs commissioner (Logistics), in consultation with other chief commissioners (customs), is working on establishing a National Customs Dog Squad Centre that will be responsible for sourcing and training dogs.
The Centre will help establish dog squads in all important customs centres in the country, including Bangalore. Officials said the proposal has now reached the board and a decision is expected soon.