It was an era of physical smuggling of precious metal, watches, electronic goods like VCP, VCR, Camera, films, perfumes, textile etc. Branded goods has a huge demand in grey market. Smuggling was highly profilitable. Cases booked by the officers were on the basis of information received from informer or on the basis of surveillance. Communication with informer was not easy, even telephones were available only at few places. But, informers have great trust in the officers which never failed.
I remember, sometime between July to October 1991 when the prestigious HQIU Unit it Rummaging and Intelligence Division of Preventive Commissionerate, Mumbai, had affected seizure of seven cases of gold involving 2700 gold bars and another case of drugs involving 1735 kg of Mandrax. News papers, magazines have printed the stories of success of Mumbai Customs. Industry, common people, bolliwood have a great attraction, enthusiasm to learn such cases. I had played very important role in many big seizures. I was instrumental in many cases including some of the above seizure. Many cases were booked on my discreet surveillance.
On the evening of 3rd November 1991, Shri L. D. Arora, then Additional Commissioner of R&I division, called me and few officers of HQIU unit in his cabin. He was having great intelligence network of informers. Sometimes, better than DRI. He selected a team of Officers to work out the intelligence which he had gathered. He disclosed to the team that a consignment of silver, in huge quantity, from Dubai was likely to be smuggled into India. It was planned to land near Srivardhan in Raigad district, in the night of next day. We were instructed to catch it either after landing or before landing. It was matter of pride to work out such information. We accepted the challenge happily, although it was Diwali on very next day. We chalked the plan to intercept. The team was ready for the operation. To execute the operation. Team was divided into two. Team “ONE” for land operation and Team “TWO” for operation in sea water. It was planned that team ONE would attempt its best to catch the boat carrying silver bricks in the water itself, before the landing. The department had one speed boat having speed of 35 nautical miles. We were confident that it would not be very difficult for the sea party to intercept the boat of the smuggler. Some officers including me were chosen for the Land party i.e. team TWO. To keep the operation, more confidential, we proceeded in two private vehicles next afternoon to Nagothane in Raigad district and stayed in a hotel. This place was about 120 KMs from Mumbai. We were in touch with Shri Arora Sir on telephone. Hotel telephone was the only point of contact with team TWO. Next morning on 5.11.1991, we received a call rom Shri Arora Sir. He was upset to inform that the landing of silver had taken place and the team ONE deployed in the sea could not trace or intercept the impugned boat. Shri Arora sir, himself, was coming to Nagothane for further guidance. (Later on, we understood, we met his informer there at secret point in Raigad). It was Diwali on that day and we were away from our family. Yet, we were more eager and much excited to catch the smuggled silver. Arora sir reached to the Hotel. He was bit upset since the impugned boat carrying silver could not be intercepted by the team ONE. He knew that there were lesser chances of intercepting the consignment on the road by the land team as there was a risk and life threat on being identified. Further, there were clueless about the vehicle in which the smuggled silver was to be transported. We had no idea even of the timing at which this movement was likely to happen. Then, a person along with a young chap joined us. They, local people, joined us on behalf of the informer. As needed, they came there to explain the local topography of the area. After, a deep thought, a strategy was chalked out. It was decided that we should reach at a Tri- Junction (T Junction), which was about one and a half hour driving distance and keep vigil on the trucks coming from the two side of the landing point and intercept the suspected truck. He gave the numbers of the four trucks, suspecting that any one of it would be carrying silver. However, most suspected truck was having registration number MWT 6602. It was expected that silver was to be transported to reach Mumbai next day in morning. He also instructed us to be vigilant and keep surveillance since early morning i.e. 4 am. His further input indicated that the silver bricks likely be hidden in the truck under sacks of dried prawns /fish. Trick of using dry fish, was commonly used, to avoid checking of trucks, because of strong pungent smell of fish. This was one of the methos used to avoid detection of narcotic drugs by sniffer dogs, even today.
We had dinner around 8.30, with Shri Arora Sir. No one was speaking. We were experiencing complex feel of nervousness, anxiety. It was the only chance left with us, to intercept, smuggled silver. Shri Arora was also not much comfortable. After wishing us goodluck, he left for Mumbai. We officers moved off at about 10 pm in the two private cars in which we had come. As planned, myself, an another officer and the local boy (who had come to assist us on behalf of the informer) occupied the Maruti 800. This was personal vehicle of that my accompanying officer and hence he was confident about driving. Remaining officers boarded another vehicle. They were leading the way and our Maruti 800 was following them, on the Mumbal-Goa road. It was a narrow, single road, that time. Road was so narrow that, even dividers are not provided. It was dark night. The head-lights of the vehicles coming from the opposite direction were beaming on our eyes. Hence, our driving speed was affected drastically. None of us, has practice of driving the car in night, which really needs some experience. We were driving carefully, with cautions. We were keeping that guiding vehicle at visible distance. We could, in no way, afford, to depart from being single team. The gang of smugglers could have much more muscle power and could harm us in case we were very few in counts. We did not have such kind of experience of anti- smuggling operations, earlier. After working for years together in the intelligence, I was clear despite full proof plan, anything could happen. As instructed we were to keep watch from 4 am, after reaching Tri -Junction. I shared my thought to my fellow Officer that it would be better if we start looking after the suspect vehicles from that time itself. We started to read the number plates (Registration number) of the trucks coming from opposite direction. After driving for about 25-30 minutes, we noticed a truck bearing number Mw...66...ust passed by from opposite direction. we could not read the complete number of the truck because of the darkness. The young local chap, who was sitting with us, also expressed his suspicion that it was one of the suspected four trucks. As per information gathered by shri Arora, truck was to be moved in the early morning. We decided not to take any chance and would read the registration number of truck and satisfy our self. We, immediately, took U-Turn and speedily followed the suspected truck. After chasing for about 5 minutes, we could see the number of the Truck. Yes, it was MWT 6602. We realised that the other car carrying our colleagues had gone ahead and there was no way to call them back as there was no mobile phone at that time. I advised my fellow officer to overtake the suspected truck and stop the car on a bridge which was approximately 2 km from that location towards Mumbai. I could remember that bridge because, we had just crossed it, a few minutes back. We were little nervous as we were only two officers at that moment. Meanwhile, the kid sitting with us started crying requesting us to allow him to get down. We overtook the suspected truck and drove faster and reached the bridge in a few minutes and stopped the car. I was thinking about the plan in order to take control of the truck. As soon as our car stopped in the middle of the road on the bridge, the boy sitting with us ran away off road in the darkness. I advised my fellow officer to keep open the bonnet of the car. The idea was create the scene of break down of the vehicle and being repaired. I prepared myself. The loaded revolver gave me more confidence. I was ready with the loaded revolver to make tyre of suspected truck punctured, in case, it did not stop or try for nuisance. We both were quite perplexed but were determined to check the truck. After a few minutes, the impugned truck reached near our car. I waved my hands and gave the signal for stopping the truck. The driver fortunately stopped the truck and inquired me what had happened. I said that our car broke down and we need a screw driver. While speaking with him, continuously, I started to go near the Truck. The driver was not given time to think, I just kept him busy in listening my story. I reached near the truck and climbed the door of the driver and pointed the loaded revolver towards him and took the key of the truck. He was just in shock and could not get any time to react. There were two persons, in addition to the driver, in the cabin. Both those labours were sleeping. I was completely dominating the scenario. I ordered them to get down. I disclosed ourselves identity and waved my identity card. I was shouting with a louder voice about our identity. My efforts were to ward off any assault from the persons from their pilot car, if any. It was open secret that when value of smuggled goods is vey high, they are protected by accompanying vehicles. After couple of moments, there started a traffic jam. We could see head lights of many vehicles getting stopped near both ends of bridge. Fortunately, our colleagues, who were in another car joined us. They had also taken U-Turn, after having not seen our vehicle for a considerable period time. After joining all other Officers, I had felt that I am getting exhausted. Though I was doing all the actions but mentally I was getting tired. We took the truck under escort to a Petrol Pump which was about 4 km from the bridge, and we found it very convenient to check the trucks there as it was a sufficient pole lights in the compound of the petrol pump. We reached near rear end of truck. We dropped the back panel of the truck. The truck was loaded with gunny sacks of dried prawns. Our heart started filling with joy. We were very eager to see the silver. We needed to reach floor panel. Either by way of offloading dry fish bags or by bringing some bottom cargo out. One of the Officers brought a long iron rod and put it under the sacks. He trapped one package, from the packages packed on floor panel and pulled it out. It was very difficult since it was heavy. Somehow, we all together lifted the rod, up towards sky, we noticed that it was a silver bricks wrapped with the gunny cloth. (Silver brick has standard wt of 36.600 KG each and therefore, it needed lot of energy to pull it out). We shouted with joy and started congratulating each other. It was DIWALI celebration for us.
I was given the honour to telephone Shri Arora Sir from the telephone of the Petrol Pump and I briefed him. I could sense his joy and happiness. We then took control of the Truck loaded with smuggled silver. vehicle. We reached at Sewere in Mumbai early morning and there we were greeted by Arora Sir. The gunny sacks containing dried prawns were kept in a private godown and the truck containing 151 silver bricks along with accused were taken to Customs House for completion of seizure formalities wherein 5226.36 kg silver was seized.
This is one of the most beautiful seizures which involved adventure, thrill and presence of mind including good anticipation and whenever its memory comes to my mind it gives tremendous satisfaction.