The conflict between the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) authorities and Customs officials took a new turn with the latter coming up with grave allegations against the other.
According to Customs authorities, the restrictions imposed on them for checking consignments at the Vallarpadam? International Container Transshipment Terminal may become an advantage for those who engage in smuggling and could also be a threat to national security.
As per Section 53(1) of Special Economic Zone Act 2005, a SEZ is? beyond the customs territory of India, for the purpose of undertaking authorised operations.
The customs stand is that they should have the permission to check the consignments at the terminal too. Unfortunately the SEZ authorities and the DP World are against this. Because of the adamant stand of the SEZ authorities, the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence(DRI) officials who came to seize the container carrying red sandalwood had to wait outside the terminal for around three hours on Thursday, said customs deputy commissioner S A Navas.
The stand off between Customs and SEZ began since the commissioning of ICTT in February this year. This has often led to clashes between the agencies.
Entry to an area governed under the SEZ Act is restricted by the SEZ Development Commissioner. A few months ago, denial of entry for a customs official to the terminal had created a problem.
There wont be any wonder if ICTT becomes a transit point of banned goods and even explosives, he said.
All the containers coming to the ICTT will be ready for shipping as they reach the terminal after getting Customs clearance from the container freight station itself.
In todays case of red sandalwood, the vehicle left the CFS at 3 p.m. on Thursday, but it reached ICTT only in the wee hours of Thursday. We assume that the consignment cleared by the customs at the CFS was replaced with sandal wood somewhere on the way during this period. But Customs has no permission to check it inside the SEZ area, Nawas said.
However, SEZ authorities denied the allegations of the customs. The ICTT is an International transshipment terminal.
An elaborate internal checking by the customs cannot be entertained there. If they find a container to be suspicious, they can detain it and prevent it from being shipped, said a top official of the Vallarpadom SEZ.
Random checking of cargo is the practice being followed at all international transshipment terminals across the world. As far as the entry of DRI officials are concerned, they could have informed the matter to the top officials of the SEZ or commandant of the CISF, instead of arguing with a Jawan on duty at the gate, he added.
According to the DP World authorities, they would? export containers only after they have been cleared by the Customs authorities prior to the entry into the Terminal. ICTT being located within the SEZ, the terminal gates of ICTT are under the control and responsibility of the CISF that has been appointed by the SEZ Development Commissioner who approves all permissions and access to the terminal, they said.