For the first time in the history of gold smuggling in India, the seizure in illicit trade has crossed Rs 1,000 crore mark in one financial year with customs, police and revenue agencies seizing more than 3,500 kg of gold in 2014-15. In 2012-13, the same figure stood at merely Rs 100 crore with just about 350 kg gold seized. In two years--since government increased duty on gold to 10 percent to rein in a yawning current account deficit—gold smuggling has grown by 900 percent.
That as an accepted principle seizures could be less than 10 percent of actual smuggling, the figures look even more ominous. Sources say gold has also begun to be smuggled in ever unique ways and from rather unexpected corners. There is a silver lining to the grim story though. There is an unexpected drop in Nepal which had seen a massive spurt in gold smuggling in the past couple of years. The reason: the kingpin of illicit yellow metal trade in the Himlayan nation died under the rubble of his house in Kathmandu during the recent quake.
Nepal, which normally sees seizures of around 80-100kg of gold a year saw the figures more than double in 2013-14, due to rise in duty of gold import in India. The rise was explained by agencies as smugglers pushing in gold from Dubai, Thailand and China into Nepal to be brought to India as traditional channels were being more vigorously monitored.
"It's one positive fallout of a massive tragedy. The deceased was the main conduit who coordinated illicit trade from various countries and helped push them into India. Just before Nepal quake, 40kg gold was seized in Silliguri in West Bengal. It came from Nepal. Since then, seizures have been almost negligible," said an official from the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI). The official, however, acknowledged that as long as duties remained so high in India, someone else would replace him.
Sources said smugglers are now exploiting all possible routes to push in gold which has now begun coming from the Morey border in Manipur, Kandla port in Gujarat, Bangladesh border in West Bengal and the old tested routes of Sri Lanka to ports in Chennai and various airports from Dubai and Thailand.
Increasingly, smugglers are using courier parcels to send in gold. "This is, however, camouflaged. The courier is of a torch where the batteries are made of gold. Of mixer which has golden blades. Of a transistor which has a capacitor in gold," said a DRI official detailing how only recently agencies caught 60 kg gold at Delhi airport brought in through courier in this manner.