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A 12-member Indian shooting contingent, that included a couple of Olympians, was detained by Customs officials for close to 13 hours at the Delhi airport. The country’s elite shooters, who were returning from Europe after a couple of world events, were questioned in connection with an international arms smuggling case being probed by Customs and the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI).
The illegal arms racket came to light following last month’s joint raid at the residence of a Meerut-based retired colonel and the recovery of 44 guns, besides strong proof that pointed to illegal poaching. The colonel’s son, national level shooter Prashant Bishnoi, has been absconding since. This followed the arrest of a Slovenian national and two Delhi shooters who were trying to import arms and ammunition with fudged papers and false undertaking. While the Customs officials said it was the heightened security that resulted in the national squad’s extraordinary scrutiny; the shooters, exhausted by the 4 am to 5 pm airport ordeal, were agitated and alleged harassment.
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“After busting the racket, a meeting was held of the Customs department and DRI where it was decided that shooters returning from other countries would be monitored closely,” a Customs official said. “It was also decided that senior officials from both agencies would be called whenever the Customs department will stop anyone with arms, especially the shooters.”
NRAI secretary Rajiv Bhatia said Customs should make their procedures clear to ensure shooters aren’t troubled again. “It’s an unfortunate incident. The shooters travel in and out of the country every month because of various tournaments. We have cooperated with the agencies but they should make the SOPs crystal clear to avoid such incidents in the future,” Bhatia said.
Meanwhile, one of the detained shooters told The Indian Express that he did understand the concerns of the authorities but there was no logical reason for the long delay. “We had all the necessary paperwork. But we were told to wait till 10 am for a senior officer, who would clear our documents and let us pass. Later, he told us that we would have to wait for the Customs commissioner. Then they told us to leave our weapons at the airport and return tomorrow (Wednesday),” a shooter said.
A Customs official, on condition of anonymity, blamed the the late arrival of the DRI official for the delay. “The officer of DRI came late, at around 3.45 pm. The verification process started only after that and the shooters were allowed to go at around 5 pm. The shooters were given the option of leaving the weapons and collecting them later after they were verified,” he said.
The prolonged wait at the airport meant most shooters missed the connecting flights to their respective home towns.
Usually, the shooters carry a letter issued by the NRAI which mentions the weapon number, barrel number in case of an extra barrel, make and model of the weapon, quantity of ammunition, number of weapons, gun licences, gun permit (which is issued by the host nation) and the permit given by the Director General of Civil Aviation to fly. While leaving the country, the Customs department stamps the letter. They keep a copy of it while another is given to the athlete. Upon returning, the copies are matched.