I retired on superannuation on 31-08-2022, after completing more than 36 years of service with customs and Central Excise/GST. Out of the 36 years of service, I had spent 28 years with Mumbai Customs, initially as Preventive Officer and then Supdt. Of Customs. These 28 years have been empirical for me. Now reminiscing of my carrier with Mumbai Customs, I feel very nostalgic about certain situations and events that are printed on my memory disc. Some of these memories have connections with my postings at Airport, at docks, at intelligence, at Nhava Sheva, examination of cargo etc. IMHO, every such memory is worth sharing with my peers. Now while taking a overview of my memory disc, I unroll an experience which I consider as rare and worth sharing in “Sadaiva Sathi, An Initiative by Mumbai Customs Zone-1”. This incidence, I had experienced as an escort Officer.
The year was 2003, and I was earlier posted at Nhava Sheva Customs House (JNCH) as PO by Mumbai Customs Zone-1, the Cadre Controlling Authority, and then had recently been promoted to Superintendent of customs. On one fine day, having my Day duty and was buried in my official work when I was presented with an opportunity to take a Helicopter ride as an escort Officer, without any hesitation and any other thought I agreed for the same. This is an incidence of Mr. Schmitz, a dashing German National who was on his world exploration tour on his personal 2-seater Helicopter. Mr. Schmitz had rough-and-ready knowledge of English Language.
Mr. Schmitz was on his adventure of world tour in his personal Helicopter but due to some technical reason he had to ship his chopper in a Sea shipping container from middle east to Nhava Sheva Port, and Mr. Schmitz himself later came by air at Mumbai airport. On being informed by the shipping line that his Chopper had come to Nhava Sheva Port he came to Nhava Sheva Customs House (JNCH) for the clearance of the Helicopter. Though Mr. Schmitz was not acquaint of the procedure, still he had not engaged any handling customs House Agent and was running here and there in JNCH for the customs clearance. Since the Helicopter had been imported in a sea container, it could not be cleared without paying customs duty or otherwise as per the rules and only after completion of certain formalities. Finally, he could meet the then ACPG (Assistant Commissioner of Customs, Preventive General). After understanding the full case and formalities to be done it was decided by the ACPG that the Helicopter would be escorted by some experienced/senior Officer up to Mumbai Airport and who should ensure that it leaves Indian Territory. However, due to long distance back from Mumbai airport to Nhava Sheva, and considering it as an unprecedented escort duty none of the floating escort officers was willing to take up the opportunity. So, when I, being a recently promoted superintendent from Senior Preventive Officer, was asked to do the escort duty, without any hesitation and for the excitement of getting a ride in a personal 2-seater helicopter, I immediately & willingly nodded. So, I was deputed to escort the two-seater Helicopter.
Therefore, I, along with Mr. Schmitz reached to the Docks, where the Helicopter was lying in one 40’ container, with blades detached. The Helicopter and Its blades were destuffed from the container and thereafter the blades were Re- fixed with the help of some port workers. After an hour of Labor-intensive work by the port workers the chopper was ready to roll. At 6;30 pm Mr. Schmitz sat on the pilot seat and I on the adjacent co-pilot seat in the Helicopter, to escort the helicopter from Nhava Sheva Port to Sahar International Airport, Mumbai. My very first experience of such a grunting machine, and before I could understand or ask anything we were already hovering near and above Mumbai airport. It took just 12 minutes to reach the Mumbai Airport. A journey which would have taken about 2.5 hrs. via road was completed in mere 12 minutes. But then the helicopter had to hover in the air for more than 20 minutes at the Mumbai Airport since the permission to land was not given by the ATC because it was not scheduled flight and No flight plan was submitted in advance as per the rule. Meanwhile the fuel gauge was almost on red and speeding to “E”, I saw Mr. Schmitz restlessly talking to ATC. Apparently, he had become very impatient. Noticing this, I asked Mr. Schmitz to hand over the headset to me so that I could talk to the Air Traffic Controller. I explained the situation to the ATC in Hindi after giving my identity and requested him to permit us to land as soon as possible. Then only ATC gave the permission to land and a remote Bay was allotted to land and park the Helicopter. Once the Chopper was parked, Mr. Schmitz became eager to fill up the Chopper fuel tank, but he was not knowing anyone and the procedure related thereof. So I had to take the situation in my hand to help the gentleman. Fortunately, I knew some of the Airline people, since I had recently worked at Airport. I somehow contacted them on the tarmac, while they were doing their duty in the airline vehicles, which were having passes to run the vehicle on tarmac. Ultimately after having exchanged few words with some of them, I was able to arrange fuel for the Chopper for which Mr. Schmitz paid the Bill in USD. By than it was 10:30 pm. Still my escort duty was not over as the helicopter was still not customs cleared and it was in Indian Territory. Mr. Schmitz just bewilderedly looked at me. It was the situation where I was to take the decision. So, I took Mr. Schmitz, taking a lift in one of the Airline vehicles to the Assistant Commissioner of Customs, Airport, who, was sitting in the Arrival Hall of module-1 terminal building and who was the jurisdictional in charge for the night. I explained the entire situation to the AC. He was very cooperative and allowed me to go to ATC Tower for the purpose of Flight Plan submission. This was something exceptional considering the strict security norms. The AC also provided me his official car to go to the ATC. Even at ATC Tower, it was not easy for me and Mr. Schmitz to meet the Air Traffic Controller. After a lengthy argument with the security staff posted there, we were able to meet ATC on duty. Again, I had to explain him the entire situation. After a few ifs and buts he agreed to accept the flight plan and asked Mr. Schmitz to submit the same. That time Information Technology was not so advance what it is now and Mr. Schmitz was not having his laptop with him. So, Mr. Schmitz sat there in the cabin of the ATC and prepared the Flight plan and submitted the same to the ATC. Now, there was further problem. There was not an available slot in which the Helicopter could fly from the airport since it was very busy night at airport and many scheduled flights were queued up. Anyway, after taking into account of all the flights, ATC gave the time slot of 4:30 am-5:00am. Now still matter was not ended. Now the question arose of customs clearance, submission of EGM. So, we again came to the Terminal Building and met the Superintendent in charge of Field Security who was also handling the charge of Non-Scheduled flights. He noted down the details and advised us to submit EGM to Departure Superintendent. Accordingly, we came to the departure area which was at first floor, crossing many security hurdles. There Mr. Schmitz prepared a hand written EGM and submitted it to the Departure Customs. After scrutiny of the same Customs Clearance was given. But that was not the end of the ordeal. Now question arose of Immigration Clearance. Again, I had to come forward for the help of Mr. Schmitz. I took him to the Airport Departure Immigration Officer on Duty. Again, explained him the entire episode. The Immigration Officer verified the passport of Mr. Schmitz, Obviously the Passport had the Arrival Stamp of the Immigration which was put at the time of Mr. Schmitz’ arrival at Mumbai Airport. Thus Mr. Schmitz was given Immigration Clearance. Now the problem was how Mr. Schmitz would go to the place where the Helicopter was parked, since it was at a faraway Bay. I again came forward for his rescue and took him to the parked helicopter, in the Official Car earlier provided by the Airport AC.
Finally surmounting all the difficulties, and set to take off, we took a sigh of relief, Mr. Schmitz was very much relieved and he thanked me a lot. He said “he could not imagine that an Indian Customs Officer would help him so much out of the way and that he would remember the incidence and me for long” We Shook hands and I bade him farewell and wished him Bon Voyage for his remaining world tour. He sat on his Pilot seat and the gigantic blades of the Helicopter started rotating and few minute later Mr. Schmitz was gone. I saw the Helicopter, which I had escorted from Nhava Sheva Port, disappearing into the vastness of the sky for leaving the Indian Territory.
The sun had almost risen. I was out of airport by 6:30am. For an escort duty, which I had imagined would take a mere 30 mins, it was almost 12 hrs. but the experience of the same still makes me nostalgic.
Is it irrelevant to mention, that because of running pilar to post I along with Mr. Schmitz could not have anything except one cup of tea offered by the Assistant Commissioner of Customs, Arora Sahab during that fateful night when I was assigned escort duty………...??
Moral : Be prepared to embrace the Uncertainties & Difficulties which may emerge while dis-charging your Customs’ “DUTY”.