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Customs ‘work to rule’ affects industry

Customs ‘work to rule’ affects industry

A consignment that landed at the city airport on July 15 has not yet been cleared by the customs for delivery. Similarly at the Chen­nai port too the clearing of import cargo is going at a snail’s pace putting the whole industry in a quandary.

Wh­ile customs officials are sticking to ‘work to rule,’ as a mark of protest against CBI action against a few officials in a pharmaceutical drug import case, sour­ces in the department said the manpower sho­rtage was hampering the department in clea­r­ing import cargo.

At present, customs department in Chennai has been functioning with the 1998-sanctio­n­ed strength of 1,847 pe­rsonnel. Further due to retirement and resignation, the current st­re­n­gth has come do­wn to 1,241 personnel in the city.

However, the nu­m­ber of bills has on­ly in­creased by leaps and bo­unds in the last 15 ye­ars. While the de­par­t­ment cleared 50,000 bi­lls a year in 1997, to­day it has the tough task of clearing 32 lakh bills.

“When the manpower strength was plann­ed, we only had Chennai port and airport. But today, we have to examine cargo at Ennore Port, L&T Port and at all container freight stations also,” said a customs official.

He added that there were 32 allied acts that need to be followed before clearing one parcel. “When we follow it to the rule, then one cou­nter can clear only nine bills a day,” the custom official further added.

However industry so­u­rces said the man­po­w­er shortage was cu­s­to­ms department’s inter­n­al issue. “The employ­e­es shouldn’t interrupt our business to fight for their grievances,” said a customs clearing age­nt.

The agent added that the import cargo have been laying un-cleared at both airport and seaport for the last one we­ek. “Air freight is the la­st option for the industry owing to huge costs involved. But wh­en the cargo that reached the airport last week has still not been cleared then it will bring huge loss to the importer,” the agent noted.

An importer told DC that the industry had so far paid Rs 1 crore alone as demurrage charges at the airport, as about 3,000 import containers are held up inside the premises. Similarly, 4,000 documents meant for examination and assessment are lying unattended to at the seaport.