Mumbai: Stung by a series of reports published by the Free Press Journal about extortion of passengers by Customs officials at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport, the Customs top brass has launched a special helpline for passengers to complain about harassment by officials.
The helpline is the brainchild of Chief Customs Airport Commissioner Roopam Kapoor. He also addressed the Customs Superintendent and Preventive Officers on Friday evening at Yoga Hall of Terminal 2 at Sahar, expressing concern over increasing complaints against the staff. He sensitised them about appropriate behaviour towards passengers.
Kapoor said, “We have discussed inviting suggestions on how to ensure smooth and hassle-free passenger movement without affecting the enforcement work. The Airport Commissioner will continue to engage in a dialogue with the officers posted at the airport.” He added that the number of arriving passengers has touched nearly five lakh this month and screening of baggage by customs officials should be discontinued at the baggage hall for quick movement.
Airport plagued with cases of extortion and harassment
Mumbai airport has been plagued with cases of extortion and harassment, with customs officers demanding illegal gratification. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) last week busted an organised racket by officials collecting digital extortion by Gpay accounts of airport loaders and baggage handlers. Passengers were threatened with false cases of smuggling gold and electronics.
Digital trail of payments led the CBI investigation
Customs Superintendent Kumar Alok was arrested by the CBI a few days ago and eight loaders were found to have collected ₹18-30 lakh each in the last six months of being posted at the airport. The digital trail of payments led the CBI investigation to international flight and hotel bookings of senior IRS officers made from the same Gpay accounts used for extortion.
A dedicated helpline
Launching the dedicated helpline for complaint redressal, Airport Commissioner Manish Mani Tiwari said that passenger grievance numbers will be operational 24x7 for quick resolution of complaints. The customs department displayed the dedicated numbers +91 8655079770 monitored by the Deputy Commissioner of Customs, Uniform Batch and +91 8655040096 monitored by the Additional Commissioner of Customs.
Though welcoming the dedicated helpline, senior officials claimed it was too little and too late to salvage the reputation that has taken a beating in recent months. “It is just an eyewash. Senior officers responsible for posting their favourite officers in the Uniform Batch have to be held accountable for failure to monitor extortion and harassment of passengers,” said a senior Customs officer.
Regular flyers claimed the initiative is a futile exercise as the Customs Zone is a mobile blind spot.
“Customs officers in civils accost single and unsuspecting passengers, especially elderly or students. They harass by asking for invoices for mobiles, laptops and gold ornaments, which are permissible for personal use. Passengers can’t make calls from their mobiles as it’s a blind spot and the Customs officers offer to give hotspot connections to make Gpay payments to loaders and baggage handlers. It’s a well organised racket,” alleged a frequent flyer on condition of anonymity.
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