Transport, logistics woes clog ports and airports, custom clearance allowed

Topics Coronavirus | airlines | transport

Customs officers say it has become difficult to clear essential items due to the flood of non-essential items. Representative image
Round-the-clock Customs clearance has been allowed for three months but there is another implementation issue. Non-essential shipments have already clogged ports and airports, with agents or brokers not turning up due to unavailability of logistics partners and transportation.

In many cases, duties are not being paid by importers due to temporary closure of manufacturing facilities. In some cases, duty is being paid but imported stuff is not being lifted.

Customs officers say it has become difficult to clear essential items due to the flood of non-essential items overflowing at warehouses, as these are not getting picked up. “The crux of the problem is that transportation is permitted only for essential commodities. So, non-essential goods have clogged the whole system,” said an officer.

A look at ICEDASH, the ease-of-doing business interactive visual monitoring dashboard of the Customs department, shows the growing problem in this regard. On this, consignments cleared within 48 hours has green blinking displays, amber for up to 72 hours and red beyond that. It shows about half of air cargo is taking more than three days to get cleared. In normal circumstances, about 75 per cent of cargo would get cleared within 72 hours. At the Mumbai and Delhi airports, the number of consignments getting cleared in less than 48 hours is down 22 and 40 per cent, respectively. Kolkata has seen a sharp fall, of 66 per cent, for shipment clearance under 48 hours. As for sea, 45 per cent of consignments are getting cleared in less than 48 hours; 50 per cent are taking more than 72 hours.

In the case of risky consignments, going for assessment and examination, broker should be available to explain the goods to the officer. They’re not showing up. In many other cases, officials say, duty which is to be paid online is not being paid.

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had announced round-the-clock Customs clearance till June 30. Officials say the policy announcement was not in line with reality — the issue is not clearance, but picking up of items after that, due to logistics unavailability. “Although thinly staffed, Customs officers are ensuring timely clearance at their end. The delay is on the side of importers, with their agents or brokers not turning up to explain the goods, due to unavailability of transport to travel and take deliveries,” said one. Another officer says a courier firm doubled its freighters of non-essentials, which are getting cleared from Customs but are lying at the airport because of non-availibility of transport.

“Freighters full of non-essential goods like chocolates and clothing items are landing, which has blocked the entire system. Apparently, they feel Customs is working at skeletal levels and so they can get goods cleared without adequate enforcement activity,” he said,  adding that they pay duty and keep it at the airport only, as they cannot transport at this stage.

On the other hand, many logistics and air freight carriers have suspended operations. This could pose a problem in importing essentials like Covid-19 testing kits and ventilators. A Mumbai-based Customs officer said he had a call from a counterpart in another country to clear a testing kit consignment, even as the courier partner refused to take delivery.

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