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.