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Airport contract staff in the line of fire
November, 16th 2011

About 23 contract employees at the Chennai airport have been suspended since January on various charges, including theft and helping smugglers. The list includes ground staff, security personnel, support staff and drivers of private airlines .

"There is very little checking and monitoring of the thousands of contract employees working at the airport . They enter and leave with minimum checks and most are misusing this freedom ," a senior customs official said on condition of anonymity .

The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) on Monday busted a smuggling racket and arrested six persons , including a driver of Jet Airways, who transferred a consignment of party drug ephedrine into the aircraft through the baggage truck.

"We are questioning the head of human resources at Jet Airways. We have told all intelligence agencies to keep tabs on contract employees," said C Rajan, additional director general, DRI, Chennai.

In January, customs officials nabbed an Air India security person who helped a gang of gold biscuit smugglers . In June, a member of the ground staff of a private airline was held for carrying a consignment into the aircraft . "There is no system to do a background check on employees or keep a registry of their entry and exit," another customs official said.

"Some contract employees bypass security screening and help smugglers transport consignments for about Rs 4,000," the official said. "Most of them are poorly paid and work more than 10 hours a day," he said. Just one Bureau of Civil Aviation Security officer provides identity cards for contract employees. The cards are issued based on the recommendation of private airlines , sources said. Most private airlines recruit staff through sub-contractors .

"The Airports Authority of India and some private airlines fail to enforce the uniform system for workers," the official said.

Sources in the intelligence department said the home ministry had asked for a clarification about the security breach after the drug ring was busted on Monday.

Airport sources said smugglers prefer Sundays when there is less traffic. "As most smugglers are caught on Sunday or Monday, intelligence and security officials are on high alert on weekends ," sources said.

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