Too many toys for Customs officials

Officials at the Mumbai airport Customs warehouses are worried about how to go about disposing close to 6,000 toy helicopters confiscated from passengers over the last two years.

The Ministry of Communication and IT had instructed the airport Customs department in 2010 to seize high frequency radio-controlled toy helicopters owing to security reasons. Customs authorities, however, were not given guidelines on the disposal of the same and are now facing a space crunch in their warehouses.

A radio-operated toy helicopter lies in the Mumbai airport customs warehouse

“Since the announcement in 2012, we have seized about 6,000 such high frequency radio operated toys. Our warehouses are packed with them and we don’t have space to keep other seized items.

The no-objection certificate for the disposal of these items is still pending with the concerned department,” said a Mumbai airport Customs official, on condition of anonymity.

“In the beginning, the number of items seized was very high. We got up to 100 every day but passengers have now become aware and the numbers have reduced,” the Customs official added.

P M Saleem, Commissioner, Mumbai Airport Customs said, “I don’t have figures of the seized toy helicopters, but, yes the number is high and we are in the process of disposing them. We are in touch with the police and the Ministry of Communications and are currently awaiting necessary clearances.”

Playing hard to get
The confiscated copters belong to gamers, toy enthusiasts and some celebrities too. Actor Imran Khan was stopped while returning from New York and a Wi-Fi operated toy helicopter was seized from him. Khan was asked to get permission from the telecom department for possession of the toy.

Costs of high frequency toy copters start from $60 and can go up to $250.

“I am a game freak; I had the lower version of the toy so I thought of upgrading. I paid $65 for the helicopter. When I arrived at the Mumbai airport I was cleared at the luggage counter but on my way out I was stopped by a Customs official who told me it was declared as a banned item,” said Nilesh Kandalgaonkar, a 35 year-old from Goregaon.

Malad resident Mayank Aggarwal wanted to surprise his son on his fifth birthday. “I got two helicopters to gift my son and paid more than $160. I was really sad when the customs officials seized the items citing the ban. Later I purchased a lower version available at a local market and gifted it to my son.”

No toying around
Restrictions have been imposed on the import of aero models that run on high radio bandwidths because of their possible interference with the communication networks of security agencies.

Intelligence agencies suggested a ban on such toys and the Ministry of Communication and IT issued a notification on September 16, 2010 (a copy of which is with SMD) and the Customs department was asked to confiscate all such imports. The ministry issued another letter on October 5, 2010 in which it cleared which frequencies were to be permitted.  

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