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Customs' challenges

T N C Rajagopalan 

The Customs will participate in the with a tableau titled Indian Customs - The Guardian of Our Economic Frontiers. The tableau will move along with a new signature tune, Pragti Ki Dhadkan.

The participation is one of the many initiatives to celebrate the 50th year of the Customs Act, 1962.

The (WCO) celebrates January 26 as International Customs’ Day. Usually, the Indian Customs celebrate by releasing full-page advertisements informing the public about the event, their achievements and the tasks ahead. At various Customs offices in the field, officers and staff get together and take pledges rededicating themselves to the service of the nation.

This year, too, the WCO has suggested a new theme and urged all member-organisations to be innovative in taking forward the theme in all facets through 2012. This year, the theme is connectivity, and the call is to dedicate 2012 to promoting connectivity, including enhanced cooperation and communication, under the slogan Borders Divide, Customs Connects.

Announcing the theme, the Secretary General of the WCO said: "Connectivity encompasses people-to-people, institutional, and information linkages that underpin and facilitate the achievement of Customs' main goals."

Last year, the WCO theme was Knowledge a Catalyst for Customs Excellence. Indian Customs also adopted the theme but very little is known about the actions taken by to make sure operating staff and the taxpayers are better informed about various aspects of the Customs laws. The general perception is that the Customs Act, 1962, was enacted at a time when duty rates were very high in a closed economy; and needs a re-write, keeping with the more open trading environment now.

In fact, managing perceptions could be a key challenge for the Customs.

The Customs not only collect taxes but also enforce the Customs Act, governing imports and exports of cargo, baggage, postal articles; arrival and departure of vessels, aircraft and so on; discharge agency functions by enforcing prohibitions and restrictions on imports and exports under various legal enactments; prevent smuggling and narcotics drug trafficking and carry out international passenger processing. Over the years, the Customs has introduced a number of measures to facilitate trade and enhance compliance with Customs laws.

Automation of Customs EDI for electronic processing of various declarations filed with the Customs, introduction of risk management system and self-assessment procedures are some of the highlights of facilitations in recent years.

However, as a recent international survey pointed out, business executives still complain about inefficiency, inadequate infrastructure, corruption, onerous and fickle tax laws that give power without accountability to bureaucrats.

Most foreign investors also perceive our bureaucracy as the worst in Asia. They are unwilling to buy the plea that a few bad elements give the entire bureaucracy a bad name.

The challenge before the Customs, therefore, is clear.

At the operating levels, the officials with whom the passengers, importers and exporters interact, efficiency and courtesy has to be experienced. So, while highlighting its achievements, the Customs should also motivate its field formations to be honest, so that perceptions about it turn positive. 

First Published: Mon, January 23 2012. 00:08 IST