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Two spectacular cases on Ganapati day

Success is not a destination but  a continuous journey. Feeling happy is natural on achieving a mile stone but the milestones are not permanent abodes. Happiness lies in searching of  new vistas and discovering new heights. In an  intelligence organisation all progress takes place outside the comfort zones. Customs intelligence setup is no different. Days are hectic,  work  is continuous and not always rewarded. But only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired and success achieved.


I had the opportunity to Work in Rummaging and Intelligence wing of Bombay Customs under some of the most distinguished officers of customs cadre including legendary Shri L D Arora. I am sharing with you the details of two spectacular cases we made in 1989, consecutively without having a wink for 48 hours and the better part of it is that none of us compromised on the parameters of alertness required for such operations .


Information was received that an undisclosed quantity of gold was likely to be smuggled through British Airways flight from Singapore,  with the help of one staff engaged to remove the leftovers from the aircraft. Strategy was devised and I along with a team of officers discreetly boarded the aircraft immediately after disembarkation of passengers. We swiftly rummaged through the trolleys packed with leftover material but nothing was recovered. Without losing  time we interrogated the crew available on the aircraft regarding people who had boarded the aircraft before us. The stewardess pointed towards a garbage removal platform mounted on a truck and standing alongside the aircraft.It was almost readying for departure. We pounced on the platform through the aircraft door and took charge of all garbage bags lying there. Ignoring our personal hygiene we emptied all garbage bags one by one on the platform itself ! Lo! and behold !soon one heavy packet fell from one of the garbage bags.  It was later found to contain 4 kilograms of pure gold with Foreign markings. Our happiness knew no bounds on success of the mission. Next day was auspicious day of Ganesh Chaturthi. We bowed to the Lord-and made mental prayers. Goods were seized , statements of concerned persons recorded and seizure documentation completed.It was broad day when we moved out of the airport . The contraband was temporarily deposited in RSR and all of us rushed to our homes to take a well deserved rest.


The fate however had something else in store for us! As soon as I reached home, had taken bath and was relishing a cup of tea with drooping eye lids  imploring for sleep, I received a message that our boss Shri Arora   wanted me to call him immediately. I was happy that boss wanted to congratulate me personally. I went to a public booth and made him a call. He did congratulate me but directed me to come to office immediately. We had ardent belief in his style of working.It is the repetition of affirmation that turns into belief. Our belief in our boss in course of time had become a conviction that made the things happen. i forgot my sleep , changed in two minutes and set out to office on my motorcycle and was ready to charge again. My another colleague, who was also a companion in previous night’s operation, was waiting for me. We were given a briefing.


The information was that smugglers had planned to take advantage of holiday on Ganesh Chaturthi and would try to land silver somewhere on Mumbai coast, thinking that customs would be complacent and vigil would be lax on account of Ganesh Pooja.. Strategy was planned in close coordination with Coast  Guard. Boss had already requisitioned a Coast Guard ship for patrolling and to keep a lookout. Night Mobile squad was alerted and asked to keep strict vigil on the coastal area . We collected necessary paraphernalia required for deep sea operations and proceeded to docks area. Sturdy coast guard ship “Ahilyabhai” was waiting for us. Lead by Shri LD Arora himself I along with my colleague Officer and the coast guard team set sail into the sea. The rains were on their last legs but the sea was still choppy. Under able manoeuvring of  Captain Raj Singh of Coast Guard, the ship moved swiftly as per directions of Shri Arora towards Worli via Bombay Floating Lights area. All of us positioned ourselves strategically on the deck and fixed our gaze on the sea. It was evening time and hordes of fishing trawlers were returning home with their catch. Any of these fishing trawlers was capable of carrying smuggled goods but it was out of question to check them all. Experience had taught us to spot suspected boats. A suspect boat does not move like a normal fishing boat. It has tell tale signs to arouse a customs officer’s suspicion. Their movement is like a ripple in the calm sea, more or less like a ticketless traveller among the human crowd moving out of a railway station .During the course of our sailing we did check some fishing trawlers and Arab dhows but nothing suspicious was found.It was getting dark now but we were glued to our positions. Binoculars had now been replaced with night visions.


Finally the time of reckoning came when we could spot a trawler moving suspiciously with all its lights off. Immediately Arora sir directed the captain to move the ship in that direction. Ahiliabhai’s strong engines gave a loud roar and the ship was soon in hot pursuit of the suspected boat. Sensing trouble, the suspected boat tried to run towards shallow waters thinking , perhaps , that the water draft would be insufficient for the big ship to follow it in shallow waters.Soon a verbal warning was given  to the baat on ships Loud speakers. They were repeatedly asked to stop and surrender. But apparently it had no effect on the boat commander and he continued to run towards shallow waters.

Time was running out , we had the apprehension that soon the boat would disappear in some creek, if it was not stopped it it’s act of escape. Final warning was given to the boat but of no avail. We were left with no choice but to stop the boat forcibly. Orders were given to fire upon the smugglers boat. The atmosphere soon reverberated with gun fire from Light machine guns of the coast guard ship. Though the firing was done in the air, and not directly at boat, it had the desired effect . The boat froze where it was and a contingent of crew came out on the deck with their hands raised! With guns still pointed towards them to thwart any  attempts of jumping into the sea, the ship was carefully taken alongside the smugglers boat. We were not far from coast and sea continued to be stormy. It was only after some fine maneuvering on part of the ships captain that the ships portside could be taken close the smuggler boat’s deck.Trained coastguard personnel immediately jumped on the boat and tied a secure line between ship and the boat. I along with my fellow officer too jumped on the boat . All the crew on board were taken into custody and their body search taken to ensure that none of them carried a weapon.


A cursory search of the boat revealed that it carried  a cargo of contraband silver ingots wrapped in gunny bags. Each ingot had an inbuilt handle for smooth transport of silver bullion. The name of the ship as per its papers and  name board was “Sidhi Vinayak”. We were amazed at this coincidence and thanked Lord Ganesha again for this bounty. The boat was escorted to Mole station. A total of 200 ingots of silver  weighing more than 6200 Kilograms and valued at more than Rs. 5.5 crores were seized from  the boat .All its   crew members were arrested.


Everything was routine thereafter. We were relieved by a fresh batch of officers for follow up investigation and preparation of seizure documents. We headed home to have a peaceful long sleep. The seizure from boat Siddhivinayak was the first major silver haul which was followed by many more in coming months. I shall always remember these two consecutive cases as an example of undying human spirit to strive continuously.

25/01/2023 9:32:55 AM

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