IN the heart of Panjim, right across the Mandovi, visitors to the city’s famous Blue Building, which houses the country’s only Indian Customs and Central Excise Museum, will soon get to see, besides exhibits of seizures made at the country’s borders, details of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) that the country adopted in July 2017. The museum, set up in 2009 and spread across two floors, highlights the role of the Customs department on the ground floor, and the Central Excise on the first floor. It’s here, on the first floor, which currently has an entire display on the Dandi March and an extensive bunch of exhibits on sugar excise, that the GST exhibits will be put up.
“We plan to redo the floor above and exhibit literature on GST. We have had meetings where the plan is to celebrate the date GST was implemented and tell everything that went behind the change from Central Excise to GST,” informs Customs Superintendent Precilla M.D.C.F eSouza.
But the pride of the museum is the main gallery on the ground floor, aptly titled ‘Battle of Wits’, where the exhibits seized by the Customs have been displayed.
Among the exhibits is a precious 18th Century print of a manuscript of the Ain-i-Akbari, written by Akbar’s court historian Shaykh Abu’l Fazal Ibn Mubarak in 1590. A text behind the exhibit reads that it was “being smuggled through the Indo-Nepal border and was seized by Customs officials at Raxaul, Bihar”.
So while there are small copper coins simply titled Shark jaws to sandstone Apsara, Customs museum will now have GST exhibits. “1st Century Ananda coins”, the emphasis is on the team that did the seizure: Chennai Customs. A rare Nataraja image seized by the Kolkata Customs in 1976, a shark jaw with teeth seized by the Bhavnagar Customs, an elephant molar stopped by the Patna Customs, and a dancing Apsara in sandstone that was caught in the nick of time by Mumbai Customs.
Manish Chaudhary, the man in charge of the museum, says, “This is such a sensitive part of our duty, the regular seizures and the operations we conduct based on leads. This aspect of educating people about the relevance of Customs as the final frontier of the country’s assets is usually not done.”
Right in the centre of this gallery is the replica of a car depicting all the crevices that smugglers use to smuggle out expensive watches, gold, and drugs. There are examples made of shoes, with pockets at the soles, an old technique to take things across the country’s borders.
There is also a group photograph of eight “innocent looking men”, all sitting on the steps of a railway station, with the caption mentioning that they were arrested after gold was recovered from their rectum as early as June 10, 1956, by the Amritsar Railway Customs Station. It says 510 tolas of Persian Gulf Origin gold slabs, valued then at Rs 31,000, were recovered, with each individual carrying a pound and a half each.
“A quick walk here will tell you how contraband are smuggled and how we stop them,” says eSouza.
While the museum gets the spillover of the casino crowd, and the regular honeymooners, it also tries to attract visitors during the various festivals Goa hosts around this time of the year. With Serendipity Festival bringing art enthusiasts from across the country, the museum hopes there will be a “few curious ones who might want to know about customs and their seizures”.