Data | Gold to dried seahorses, heroin to whale vomit: Volume and variety of contrabands seized in India

Rescued from smuggling: Thane Forest Department and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Mumbai unit in a joint operation seized 523 Indian Star Tortoises from a lady passenger at the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus Railway station. The Indian star tortoises are trafficked and smuggled as a part of the exotic pet trade and are highly-priced, both in local and international markets.

Rescued from smuggling: Thane Forest Department and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, Mumbai unit in a joint operation seized 523 Indian Star Tortoises from a lady passenger at the Lokmanya Tilak Terminus Railway station. The Indian star tortoises are trafficked and smuggled as a part of the exotic pet trade and are highly-priced, both in local and international markets.

Gold, dried seahorses, heroin and red sander logs are some examples of items that are seized by Indian Customs and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) in airports, along sea routes, and in border areas nearly every day. The report, ‘Smuggling in India Report, 2021-22’, mentions the volume of illegal commodities seized and describes the kinds of items smuggled and the challenges involved in such operations.

In FY21-22, the DRI seized over Rs. 400 crore worth of over 800 kilograms of gold transported illegally. Chart 1 shows that most of the seized gold originated in Myanmar. Many innovative ways were used to smuggle gold into India. An operation named ‘molten metal’ uncovered a racket wherein gold smuggled in the form of machinery parts were remodelled into bars and cylinders. Another operation code-named ‘golden tap’ uncovered a syndicate which was smuggling triangle valves made of gold but coated with nickel to make them look like steel.

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In FY21-22, the DRI seized over Rs. 1,100 lakh worth of illegal foreign currency. As shown in Chart 2, most of it was in U.S. dollars followed by the UAE’s Dirhams and Saudi Arabia’s Riyals. In one instance, $5 lakh of illegal currency was seized from two persons flying to Sharjah from Mumbai.

In FY21-22, over 1,100 lakh sticks of cigarettes worth over Rs. 93 crore were seized by the DRI. As shown in Chart 3, most of them originated in Myanmar followed by the UAE. One such operation where the DRI officials intercepted a six-wheeler truck at Ukhrul, Manipur, led to a seizure of 32,76,800 sticks worth Rs. 6.5 crore. Cigarettes are smuggled into India given the high taxes imposed on local brands. Most seized packages do not contain pictorial warnings as mandated by the Indian government.

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Narcotics weighing 28,334 kilos were seized by the DRI in FY21-22. Most such seizures in FY21-22 were made in Madhya Pradesh followed by Tripura and Maharashtra. Table 4 shows the break-up of the banned substance for which route data were available. Ganja weighing about 26,900 kilos was seized that year, making it the most smuggled narcotic substance. It was followed by heroin, most of which was apprehended on sea routes. In one instance, over 1,800 cartons of “apple juice” and “pomegranate juice” was imported from Bandar Abbas Port (Iran) and intercepted at Inland Container Depot at Tughlakabad. Upon inspection, many of the cartons were found to have white sediments which turned out to be heroin. In another instance, trolley bags, imported from Entebbe, had hollow metal tubes (as part of the design) which were found to contain heroin. In some cases, the substance was concealed inside teak wood and licorice roots and in others, it was hidden inside oil cans and mixed with rock salt.

Table 5 shows crimes related to the environment. Elephant tusks worth over Rs. 700 crore were recovered by the DRI in FY21-22. Ambergris or whale vomit, which is produced by the digestive system of sperm whales and is used in luxury perfumery, is a banned substance in India. A kilo of Ambergris is worth Rs. 1 crore. In FY21-22, 22.5 kgs of Ambergris were seized by officials. Reptiles and other exotic species such as dried seahorses and star tortoises are also smuggled in often. Seahorses are said to have anti-inflammatory qualities and are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Indian star tortoises are smuggled into the country and sold as exotic pets. Customs officers in Chennai seized 2,247 Indian star tortoises which were smuggled as “mud crabs” in FY21-22.

Source: ‘Smuggling in India Report, 2021-22’ by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence

Also read: The war against illegal goods as India’s fight

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