By Rajnish Singh
New Delhi, July 15 | Gold, cigarettes and liquor were among high tax items which topped the list of smuggled goods across India amid the current coronavirus crisis that has led to economic distress.
Smuggling of these goods not only registered a sharp spike amid the pandemic but also smugglers, interestingly, used innovative measures like ferrying illegal cigarettes in COVID-19 special trains.
Revealing the fact based on a study of seizure of such smuggled items, FICCI’s Committee Against Smuggling and Counterfeiting Activities Destroying the Economy (CASCADE) said Customs officials had two major seizures of smuggled cigarettes at the New Delhi railway station where the smugglers were using COVID-19 special trains for ferrying these products in less than a week.
These seizures come on the back of two other major busts of foreign cigarette smuggling rackets, the first in Mumbai and second one in Hyderabad, said the study, adding the combined value of the seizures is over Rs 15 crore.
Earlier this month, the study said, seizures of smuggled gold worth Rs 1.5 crore and Rs 15 crore were also made by the Kerala Airport Authority and customs at Thiruvananthapuram Airport respectively.
Not only does the smuggling dent the government exchequer by creating opportunities from tax arbitrage, but also threatens local industries on which livelihoods of many depend, the study said.
The study estimates that over 16 lakh jobs were lost in India in five industry sectors alone in 2017-18 due to smuggling. “Besides unemployment and massive financial losses, it also creates large scale destabilisation by fomenting crime and funding insurgency and terrorism.”
In order to create large-scale awareness of this menace, FICCI CASCADE has been conducting several interactions with government and enforcement agencies across several states in India on the ways and means to mitigate this challenge.
The organisation has also appealed to the policy makers that illicit trade should be treated as a national threat.
Applauding enforcement agencies for recent seizures, Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), an association of business organisations in India established in 1927, has urged the government to keep up the vigilance on smuggling of goods.
“Illicit trade has emerged as one of the most formidable challenges before our nation, especially during the current pandemic which has led to economic distress. This comes in the wake of several cases of smuggling of goods such as gold, cigarettes, liquor, which have been reported amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” the organisation said.
Anil Rajput, Chairman, FICCI CASCADE while congratulating the officers of the enforcement agencies for successful seizures, said: “The perpetrators of illicit trade are always looking at innovative ways to deceive the system to carry out their activities.
“This deeply harms the economic interests of the nation and the society ends up paying a huge cost. While the recent efforts of enforcement officers are laudable, we cannot afford to let the guard down. At a time when the country is already dealing with the coronavirus-triggered financial stress, it is even more important that the government maintains a strict vigil to ensure that these offenders are kept at bay.”
(Rajnish Singh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)