In a significant move aimed at preventing fraudsters fleeing the country, as well as checking smuggling and other illicit trade operations, the Government of India has asked airline companies to mandatorily share details of all international passengers, including contact and payment information, with customs authorities 24 hours prior to flight departure. For each act of non-compliance, the aircraft operators would have to pay a penalty of a minimum of Rs 25,000 and a maximum of Rs 50,000.
With this, India joins 60 other countries that collect PNR details of international passengers. In India, airlines at present are only required to share passenger information limited to name, nationality and passport details in advance with the immigration authorities.
The information to be shared by airline companies for both inbound and outbound international passengers include names, billing/payment information (credit card number), date of issue of ticket as well as intended travel, as well as names of other travellers in the same PNR, related travel itinerary, contact details, details of travel agency, baggage information and code share (when one airline sells seats on another air carrier’s flight). This information will be retained in the customs system for five years.
The Passenger Name Record Information Regulations, 2022, which were notified by the Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs (CBIC) on Monday, stated that every aircraft operator must transfer the passenger name record information – collected in the normal course of business operations – to the designated customs systems 24 hours before departure, or at the time of departure.
“For this, every aircraft operator will have to mandatorily seek registration with customs for implementing this regulation, which aims at risk analysis of passengers.…” the CBIC notification issued on August 8 said.
The National Customs Targeting Centre-Passenger (NCTC), set up by the CBIC, will process this information for prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of offenses under the Customs Act and also for the law enforcement agencies or government departments or any other country, the regulation said.
While the regulation does not state the reason for seeking such information, analysts said this is to prevent bank loan defaulters from fleeing the country to avoid prosecution, to track bill payment defaulters, to monitor people with a history of illicit trade on international transit, among others.
With regard to sharing of information with other law enforcement agencies or foreign states, the regulation states that the NCTC may share the relevant information on a “case-to-case basis” with other law enforcement agencies or government departments of India or any other country.
One may recall the recent instances of several flamboyant businessmen fleeing the country after defaulting huge bank loans. According to information furnished by the government in Parliament, 38 economic offenders, including Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya, and Mehul Choksi, fled the country in the last five years. Industrialist and former MP Vijay Mallya left the country on March 2, 2016.
However, experts analysing the impact of this move say that the objectives are well intended but strict privacy guidelines are also important while implementing the regulation.
KPMG in India, Partner, Indirect Tax, Abhishek Jain said the objective of the regulations is to obtain relevant passenger data for risk analysis to proactively prevent, detect, investigate or prosecute offenses under the Customs law or any other domestic or international law.
“The onus of timely collecting and sharing such information has been put on the airline operators. Further, while strict privacy guidelines have been stipulated under the said regulations, the government should ensure that the same are duly enforced to prevent unauthorised usage,” Jain added.
(with inputs from agencies)