KOLKATA: Movement of ships and goods at five depots, including Kolkata Port Trust’s twin facilities at Kidderpore and Haldia, were affected on Sunday as sleuths checked shipping containers following a tip-off about large consignments of arms and fake Indian currency notes (FICN) being smuggled in through ports. Nothing incriminating has been found yet. A team of 80 officers drawn from the Department of Revenue Intelligence and customs formed eight teams to check containers in what is undoubtedly the largest search operation in recent times. By the end of the day, the men could clear only 50 containers out of 8,000, underlining the enormity of the task at hand. The absence of advanced scanners at the ports have only made the search more difficult. Sleuths are particularly focusing on the Kolkata Dock System (KDS) as it handles a significant number of containers and acts as a feeder port for north India. A large number of containers from KDS travels to the inland terminal in Tughlakabad, Delhi. With container movement suspended since Saturday following reports of arms and FICN consignments at Tughlakabad depot and Chennai port respectively, imports have been hampered at these destinations. This has raised concerns among shippers of possible delays and congestion.
Kolkata Port Trust officials allayed fears of congestion and claimed the port could handle the situation for three-four days. “Containers did not move out from the ports on Sunday. A decision on the matter will be taken on Monday but there is no immediate risk of congestion,” said S Balaji Arun Kumar, deputy chairman of KoPT. Importers are hoping the search ends before the situation worsens. “Normally , it takes some time for import consignments to get released. With the country’s security at stake, we have to be patient. But this is a clarion call for quick installation of modern technology like scanners to prevent such inconvenience in future,” an importer said. “Initially the mandate was to look for contraband,” an official said. The order was to go through containers that landed in Kolkata and Haldia after March 1.KDS has already handled over 6,00,000 Twenty Foot Equivalent Units (TEU) of containers in 2016-17 while HDC’s share has been 1,17,000 TEUs. Of these, 8,000 have been segregated for thorough searches. “We chose some of the containers based on the port of origin and articles,” an official said. According to customs sources, the lens is on containers from the Middle East, politically disturbed European countries and North African countries.