The affected officers also alleged the bizarre ‘punishment’ was imposed because they stopped a Customs broker associate of Chief Commissioner Devendra Singh
It took all of four days for Customs officials at Mumbai airport to decide that they were simply not going to stand for their boss’ bizarre idea to ban chairs for on-duty officers. After just a few days of being forced to stand throughout their 12-hour shifts, an association of Customs officials held a meeting with their chief yesterday, and took a stand — quite literally.
Customs officers at work before the chairs were brought back
The protesting officials expressed their objections by refusing to take a seat during the meeting. It didn’t take long for Chief Commissioner of Customs Devendra Singh to get their point, and after the half-hour meeting, Singh agreed to revoke the ban and allow the staff to sit and do their job.
The Customs chief had all chairs removed from the arrival hall in the airport on Friday itself, forcing the staff to remain standing through their 12-hour shifts. By 6 pm last evening, the chairs were back
“The office bearers were firm in their objective to ask the chief commissioner to revoke his decision, and they remained standing for a long time. However, after several requests, they all took their seats,” explained an officer close to the case.
mid-day had reported on the matter last week, after the Customs chief banned all chairs from the arrival hall at the airport so that his staff would be more efficient and alert (‘Chair-brained idea: Customs officers to stand through 12-hour shift’, May 14). However, the Association of Superintendents of Customs alleged that Singh only took the decision to punish them.
The protesting officials handed over a letter to the chief (mid-day has a copy), alleging that he was upset with his staff because they had checked bags belonging to one of his associates. They said this was also the reason the chief also asked Air Intelligence Officers (AIU) to stay away from the arrival hall, where they mainly operate by profiling passengers – this has led them to many gold seizures in the past.
The letter handed over to Singh states: ‘It has transpired that this step has been taken to punish the officers and is the fallout of the AIU officers scrutinising the baggage of an office bearer of the Customs Brokers Association of Mumbai. The cadre of superintendents is deeply pained and wishes to convey anguish amongst the staff over the manner in which the officers were severely admonished and reprimanded for questioning/checking the baggage of the said person.’
According to the officers, the whole issue came up after Singh’s alleged associate — a customs agent — was stopped at the airport and checked by AIU officers. The agent, Ashish Pednekar, complained that the AIU officers were rude to him.
“Pedneker arrived at Mumbai airport from Dubai and was about to leave the airport premises. As part of their duty, the AIU officers carry out random checks and they also checked Pednekar’s bag and did a body search. He was travelling with his family and took offence to being searched,” explained a senior customs official. “Pednekar revealed his identity to the officers and also approached higher authorities to complain that the on-duty officers had been rude to him. After this remark was brought to Devendra Singh’s notice, he passed this order, banning chairs as a punishment for all the officers,” explained a senior Customs Official requesting anonymity.
Following the meeting, however, Singh not only allowed chairs to be brought back to the arrival hall, but also agreed to allow the AIU officers back inside.
“The chief commissioner agreed that the AIU will function as earlier, but with politeness and courtesy. The chief even met the AIU officers and addressed a meeting around 4 pm and asked them to improve their performance. By 6 pm, around 20 chairs were brought back to the hall,” added sources.
The other side
When contacted by mid-day, Chief Commissioner of Customs Devendra Singh said, “Small feedbacks about the officers are not something new, and are welcome.”
However, the customs agent who allegedly triggered the order, president of the Customs Brokers Association, Ashish Pedneker said, “I was travelling with my family and was not convinced as to why the officials needed to search me. I am in complete favour of the chief commissioner’s decision to restrict AIU from the arrival hall and asking the uniformed officers to be more vigilant during their duty.”