It has been a matter of privilege and pride to have been part of Team Mumbai Customs for almost three decades. Having worked with Mumbai Customs for so long there are so many sweet memories that still bring goosebumps and smiles. This is not just my feeling but also of many others who have retired and with whom I am in regular touch. All of those who have worked with Mumbai Customs would cherish the wonderful career they had with such a vibrant Commissionerate of Customs.
What makes Mumbai Customs such a special work place must be a question in the mind of readers of this article. First of all, Mumbai Customs has a very conducive atmosphere to work since the beginning. Mumbai Customs has been the torchbearer of Customs department since the beginning. Be it a matter of devising policies, matter of intelligence gathering and detecting smuggling cases at Airport, Seaport or Policy violation, Mumbai Customs have always been at the forefront. We are proud Customs House to have worked with stalwarts like Jamadar Bapu, Shri Rajkumar, Shri Daya Shankar, Shri L.D Arora, Shri Castao Fernandes, etc. There is robust mechanism of training at NACIN Bhandup as well as onsite training. We have some brilliant minds from within the department who are instrumental in imparting such a training to newcomers that has give us such decorated officers.
Working as a Preventive Officer and subsequently as Superintendent (Preventive) is a privilege. The pride of a Uniform Officer lies in his positive attitude which comes from legend history of this cadre. To carry a Uniform decorated with Lion capital of Ashoka on shoulders is much of a responsibility than just being part of epaulettes. A Preventive Officer is designated officer on behalf of the President of India to receive and welcome foreign guests coming to India. He is the first designated officer with whom a foreigner or NRI comes in contact after landing at Ports. There are innumerous memorable stories of Preventive Officers who received and welcomed top dignitaries, top sportspersons, Business Tycoons, Artists and top achievers in many other fields. Here I would like to share one such memorable incident when I met someone I call as a Man not from this planet. People usually get confused as to who such person can be. But when I narrate the story, the listener gets really excited. For most this man can be an Alien who mostly exist in stories or hearsays. But when I say that this man is neither an Alien nor am I narrating story of a Sci-Fi film or an episode from old days Star Wars we used to watch on DoorDarshan in eighties and Nineties. So, let me now share this sweet memory here also.
During a day time duty at Sahar International Airport November 11, 1995 we came to know that Neil Armstrong sir is coming to Mumbai that day. Normally I am not kind of person who would go after dignitaries to capture photo with them or take their autographs as they are otherwise very tired when they land and have many other priorities. But this news about Neil Armstrong sir made me so much excited that soon I found out his itinerary from Import Manifest of British Airways flight. This excitement was however dowsed as soon as we came to know that his name is there in some other arrival and departure manifests of other flights as well for the same day and subsequent day. With this I immediately realized that this is purposely done for security reasons for visit of a dignitary of his stature. None the less my hopes of meeting him dashed as it was impossible to go after all the flights in arrival and departure, some of which were having almost same timings. Leaving it to destiny I was back to my assigned duty of Intelligence Officer at Module I arrival Hall of those days. By the afternoon suddenly there was huge crowd of Police Officers escorting someone. Arrival of some minister or big leader usually has some security arrangements but, I never saw such a huge arrangement for anyone else till that day. Soon, it came to the light that my luck might click as the person being escorted was none other than the Man not from this planet. As the crowd moved towards Exit Gate I had a clear glimpse of Neil Armstrong Sir. At this moment our colleague Mr. Shashank Shekhar who was posted at Baggage Screening Machine (BSM) politely asked Neil Armstrong Sir whether he had anything to declare to the Customs, to which Armstrong replied in negative. The very same moment I got an opportunity to be there and I could shake hands with Armstrong sir. Soon he was escorted him out of baggage hall. I was dumbstruck for some moments and could not believe my luck that I could shake hand with the person who is Space Returned. Frankly speaking, that day I did not wash my hands till I reached home and shook my hands with my wife. This is not the end of story. Later I came to know that not only Mr Neil Armstrong but also Mr Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins and their wives also accompanied him that day, but nobody could recognize them. Next day The Times of India front page headline read as “Armstrong has nothing to declare to Customs”.
Coming back to narrating glory of Mumbai Customs I would like to say that we have seen sea change in the intelligence side, the core job of preventive cadre. With the introduction of Open General License the much sought abrogation of Licence Raj began in the year 1991. Restrictions and import duties are being reduced every passing year since then. With this there has been change in the pattern of tax evasion modus operandi as well. Now most of the tax evasion cases pertain to policy violation. In comparison to the past when cases were mostly of contraband or restricted goods. The department has also equipped itself for dealing with such tax evaders. System based clearance of goods through EDI network has helped in risk profiling and auto clearance at the same time. This has not only helped the country to achieve higher rank in Ease of Doing Business and fast clearance but has also helped government to collect much higher taxes. Successful implementation of GST and liberal policies have helped India to become 5th largest economy in the world. Further we are well poised to become 3rd largest economy after US and China in the next two years. Why I am mentioning it here is because Mumbai Customs has the major contribution towards policy framework and tax collection. Therefore, being part of team Mumbai Customs will always be cherished till the last breadth and it has been an honour to be the part of this team.