I had very successful tenure of two years as an Intelligence Officer in the Rummaging and intelligence (R&) Wing of Mumbai Preventive Commissionerate from 1989 to 1991 where I had the privilege to work under the legendary Late Shri LD Arora, an icon of the Indian Customs. Thereafter I was transferred to Sahar Airport as an Air Customs Officer. Although this was a very sought after and much in demand posting, I requested the Additional Commissioner, Airport to consider me for a posting in the Air Intelligence Unit (AIU) as I had a burning desire to make more and more seizures after my tenure in R&I. I had developed passion for intelligence work by then as I found it to be a very challenging task but mentally a very satisfying job where I could earn laurels not only within my own department but outside the department as well.
I had already cultivated reliable informers during my tenure in Rummaging and Intelligence and I began making seizures in AlU right in earnest. On a timely tip off, I affected a seizure of contraband foreign currency worth Rs six lakh from a departing Dassenger on my first day of joining the AlU. My maiden effort in AIU was well Appreciated by my superiors as well as by my colleagues. Subsequently, I made several notable seizures, Three cases totalling 159 gold bars of ten tolas each from different International flights at Airport (AIU).
Although I was working very hard to make seizures, I was not satisfied with the above results as my aim was to make bigger seizures. Frankly, though I appreciated Other batches of Air Intelligence Unit (AlU) when they made good seizures, I was also envious if them. Every seizure at Airport would give me fresh impetus to work even harder and make more and bigger seizures.
Meanwhile, I developed intelligence that huge quantities of gold were being smuggled in through domestic airport at Santacruz. readon was obvious, being a domestic airport, customs Officer was not posted there. I started working on this piece of intelligence and found out that Indian Airlines had recently commenced international flight operations on the route was Sharjah-Calicut -Mumbai and the aircraft in which smuggled gold would be concealed stopped only for a short duration at Calicut Airport and therefore customs officers did not have sufficient time to rummage the plane . The last leg of the flight between Calicut Mumbai was domestic flight. Consequently, the aircraft would go to the Domestic Terminal at Santacruz from where the contraband would be surreptitiously removed and taken out by Maintenance staff of the Airline in an airline vehicle. AIU officers already had their hands full in checking / rummaging at the International Terminal itself. This, possibilty of remving from International Airport was too risky for the smugglers. Thats how, this modus operandi for gold smuggling was going on unhindered and unchecked. I learnt that the DRI had also got a similar tip-off and they had rummaged the flight as such but were not successful in any recovery from the aircraft. Such attempts by DRI happened more than couple of times.
I activated my informers and one day I received more information about the modus operandi. The further input added that smugglers use to drop the packets containing gold bars through the rear toilet on the right side of Aircraft at Sharjah Airport. These packets would fall behind the panels in the cargo hold of the aircraft from where they would be surreptitiously removed by airlines staff. It was also gathered that there was a gang of some of the dominant, arrogant Airlines staff who worked as a close knit group to support and protect each other. This made it almost impossible to nab the culprits while they were removing the gold as they would be alerted to the presence of customs if we kept surveillance or covered the aircraft when it arrived. After much thoughts, It was finally planned that it would be better to retrieve the gold and seize the contraband first and then carry out any investigations.
I contacted the Chief Engineer of Indian Airlines and requested him to provide me with the layout design of the Aircraft without disclosing my intelligence. He was cooperative and gave me the layout design of the aircraft that operated on the Calicut Mumbai route. I studied the design closely and came to conclusion about a particular panel in the cargo hold behind which the smuggled gold packets would fall if dropped from the rear toilet of that aircraft. I also learnt that this flight operated twice a week in this route. I also came to know that the DRI had called off their operations and they had not rummaged the last flight that had arrived from Sharjah-Calicut.
I was off-duty when I received reliable information that the smuggled gold would be coming on the next flight and I immediately contacted few of my colleagues and asked them to remain on standby for next day. The next day I checked with Airline about the landing time and accordingly our AIU team of officers reached domestic Airport at about 10 am. We waited at a discreet distance so as not to arouse any suspicion. But when the impugned flight landed we were surprised to note that Officers of AIU batch on duty, led by Khan Chacha had also came rhere for same aircraft, ostensibly to work out some information. We went to him and wished Khan Saheb and informed them of our purpose of visit. He was a very nice and Khan Chacha We wished Khan Daheb and infrmed them about the purpose of our prsence there. Khan sir was very gentleman and straightforward officer. He informed us that he had information that some passengers would be carrying gold and hence he would check them first, after which we could proceed to our operation. I heaved sigh of relief on hearing that his information was not the same as that of mine. We knew abd experienced that many a times there would be internal rifts when two different teams worked on the same information. The team of officers left the aircraft after checking on suspect passengers.
Thereafter, I along with three of my colleagues boarded the rear end cargo-hold of the Aircraft and went straight for the panels just below the right side rear toilet of the Aircraft. The panels required a special type of screw driver to open the panels and I had already purchased this from the market. On opening one panel, we noticed a few heavy packets lying on the heavy thermo piles which were used as insulation material for the walls of the Aircraft. When we opened one of these packets and found 25 gold bars of ten tolas each inside this packet. Our joy knew no bounds as there were 10 similar packets and each was found to contain 25 gold bars of 10 tolas each. This was a huge recovery of 250 gold bars.
We congratulated each other and immediately informed our superiors about recovery of gold and requested for additional officers. Khan Chacha and his team returned back to the domestic Airport and rendered valuable assistance. Thus this remarkable seizure of 250 gold bars of 10 tolas each was affected. I also informed LD Arora Sir, my guru, who was very happy to hear the news and he congratulated me. This was one of the finest seizures I could make with grace of the Almighty and memory of this seizure will ways remain fresh in my mind.
Incidentally, after a few months, once again on basis of inrormation gathered by me, I made another seizure of 50 gold bars of 10 tolas each from same rear panel in the cargo hold of an Indian Airline aircraft. This time at International Airport.
Ravindra Nath Singh