MIAL's cargo complex a 'fire trap', says customs department

Updated: Jul 12, 2019, 07:41 IST | Vinod Kumar Menon

That's the gist of Customs Dept's show-cause notice to Mumbai Airport's cargo complex, which employs hundreds and holds thousands of tons of import-export articles

MIAL's cargo complex a 'fire trap', says customs department
The dilapidated customs office and the leaky air-conditioners make the space unsafe for work, customs officials alleged

Leaky walls, shabby interiors, and pieces of iron falling off their roofs — employees at the Air Cargo Complex, Mumbai International Airport Private Limited (MIAL) have been working in unsafe conditions for years now. The MIAL has failed to upgrade infrastructure and ensure fire safety measures here, alleged the Office of the Commissioner of Customs (General). A show cause notice has now been sent to the MIAL, which was appointed as custodian of the Import and Export Cargo under the Customs Act, 1962.

The customs department has claimed violation of the Handling of Cargo in Customs Areas Regulation (HCCAR), 2009 by the MIAL in its notice dated June 24, despite several reminders regarding compliance. The show cause notice to MIAL was signed by Assistant Commissioner of Custom Deepak Pandit with the approval of Commissioner of Customs (General) Air Cargo Complex.

Cargo complex's broken ceiling
Cargo complex's broken ceiling

A senior customs official said that the department has been writing to MIAL about the matter but "our plea has been taken lightly." He said, "The cargo complex has hundreds of people (customs, airlines, clearing forwarding agents) working there along with thousands of tons of cargo (import/export) and it does not have any fire disaster plan in place."

On April 15, a piece of iron fell off from the height of almost 150 feet, creating a hole in the false ceiling. "This is a clear case of negligence towards precautionary measures and safety of the people working in the Air Cargo complex. The Commissioner of Customs (General) had sent a letter to the MIAL on April 16 asking them to stop construction work immediately unless adequate safety measures are taken up," the officer added.

Customs clearing agents and cargo airlines staff work inside the dilapidated building
Customs clearing agents and cargo airlines staff work inside the dilapidated building

The MIAL has submitted a custodian bond on December 18, 2015, stating that it shall "provide all reasonable facilities to the customs officials and its personnel for discharging their duties and shall cooperate with customs in any scheme for automation and technological upgrade of the facility but MIAL is not adhering to the bond norms," the officer added.

The show cause notice also raises concerns about alleged air conditioners provided by MIAL being outdated and some sections of the customs department operate without air conditioning for days at a stretch leading to the failure of the computer networks too. The plea to provide additional high-speed internet connectivity has yielded no response either.

The dilapidated customs office inside the air cargo section
The dilapidated customs office inside the air cargo section

MIAL seeks extension

In its letter to customs on January 5, MIAL stated had that the timeline against each nature of work is impractical to execute and has requested an extension in the deadline by 120 days. It has, however, not begun work on upgrading the lift or construction of a toilet for customs staff. A joint inspection was done on February 15 and an area was earmarked for it but no work has been undertaken yet, the customs officer said.

MIAL had also informed the customs department that Fire Audit and Bomb threat drills are regularly carried out and reports are submitted to the regulatory authority concerned. However, no information regarding this is provided to the Customs Authority.

The air cargo complex with tons of goods is quite vulnerable in case of a fire, custom officials alleged
The air cargo complex with tons of goods is quite vulnerable in case of a fire, custom officials alleged

A senior customs officer said, "In case of any fire emergency, the entire place will become a trap as the cargo sheds are covered with tarpaulin sheets." There is also a proposal for a new cargo office with the Urban Planning Department drafting a plan. There is, however, no work being undertaken for it, nor for the renovation of the canteen, customs officials alleged.

Activists threaten dharna

"The Mumbai customs is the biggest revenue earner for the country and as such the shabby treatment meted out to the custom officials by MIAL is unacceptable. Immediate remedial measures are expected. We have been consistently raising our concern about the safety and security of thousands of people working here round the clock and if MIAL fails to act, we will be compelled to call for a protest," said Godfrey Pimenta of Watchdog Foundation.

'Security in place'

Mumbai International Airport, in a statement, said that it "has developed and created adequate infrastructure for the process of import and export goods including some of its own kind as per the Handling Customs Cargo Area Regulation-2009." It added, "The airport is also in the process of implementing the cargo master plan in a phased manner."

Additional facilities for the Customs Department are under consideration and in the process of development, it said. "As this airport is under development there are some temporary structures created to ensure safe and secure cargo handling, especially during the current monsoon season. All such temporary structures are also in the process of conversion under the cargo master plan. As there are cargo development projects going on, during the replacement of the roof, it was an accidental occurrence where an iron piece, unfortunately, fell on the corridor, as such, and all required safety measures were in place under the guidance of customs."

5 Jan
Day MIAL sought extension in deadline for renovation

15 Apr
Day a piece of iron fell from a 150-ft height in the cargo complex

16 Apr
Day customs sent letter to MIAL asking them to stop construction work

June 24
Day the Customs Department's show-cause notice was issued to MIAL's Cargo Complex

Dec 2015
MIAL signed custodian bond promising to provide reasonable facilities to customs officials

BMC's monsoon shed circular

BMC has issued a policy for granting monsoon shed, to be granted by the Assistant Commissioner of the respective wards. Some of its fire safety measures include:

  • The permission shall be granted from June 1 to September 30
  • NOC from the CFO shall be requisite while granting such permissions
  • The material used for the erection of monsoon shed shall be fire resistant/fireproof/non-inflammable as per the requirement of CFO. Safety and security of occupants shall be ensured by applicant

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