Expecting to find drugs, Mumbai airport Customs came across hollow cricket bats and a Buddha statue aboard a plane. The aircraft from the fleet of an international cargo carrier took off defying Customs orders Saturday night and was later forced to land by Mumbai Air Traffic Control (ATC) under section 106 of The Indian Customs Act, 1962 that empowers officials to fire at the plane if it doesn’t alight.
ATC finally convinced the pilot and an emergency landing was made just for a Customs screening.
Mumbai airport Customs had received a specific intelligence about a drugs consignment to be loaded on flight 5X 014 Mumbai-Shenzhen — a Boeing 744 aircraft — of UPS Air Cargo. At around 8.30 pm on Saturday, officials asked the cargo division of UPS at Mumbai airport not to load the particular shipment. Ignoring instructions, the flight departed with the consignment around 9.35 pm. The cargo official who was coordinating with Customs allegedly switched off his cellphone making the situation appear even more suspicious.
Customs officials hurriedly asked ATC Mumbai to get the flight back to the airport with all the details, but ATC initially refused. “We informed Customs that the flight was airborne and could not be asked to land unless some technical problem occurred with the aircraft,” Mumbai ATC sources told this newspaper.
Later, Customs asked ATC to coordinate the landing under section 106 of the Indian Customs Act that empowers the agency to land any aircraft under suspicion. The flight landed at about 10.20 pm and the questionable cargo was removed from the plane around 10.40 pm and taken to the courier terminal.
On unpacking the cargo officials found the cricket bats and Buddha statue, which were all hollow from inside.
The agency believes that intelligence was leaked at the last minute to the perpetrators who managed to conceal the real contents. Customs is likely to summon the cargo company in the coming days.
Despite repeated attempts Mumbai airport Customs commissioner PM Saleem could not be contacted. We were also unable to reach UPS Air Cargo for a reaction.
What section 106 of Indian Customs Act says
Where the officer has reason to believe that any aircraft in India has been used in the smuggling of any goods… he may at any time compel it to land. By means of an international signal code or other recognised means and if it falls to do so, chase may be given to aircraft as aforesaid and if after a gun is fired as a signal the aircraft fails to land, it may be fired upon.