File photo of seized gold bars and Indian currency on display, after three people including two Nepalis were arrested for allegedly trying to smuggle the bounty from Nepal, in Siliguri, West Bengal, Feb. 18, 2016. (Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images)

Gold smuggling has taken a major hit due to demonetization with the ‘hawala’ transactions, used to bring the yellow metal into the country, coming to a complete halt, a senior customs official has said, writes Ashwini Shrivastava.

The demand for gold has been traditionally high in the country as people prefer to invest in it for better returns.

Nearly 355 cases of gold smuggling were reported at the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) here during financial year 2015-2016. In these cases, the customs authorities seized 450 kgs of gold, valued at a whopping Rs. 132 crore (as per prevailing market rates), official data said.

About 190 people were arrested in these cases.

The number of cases of gold smuggling took a hit, especially after demonetization was announced, Nov. 8, last year, by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the customs official said.

As a result, about 240 cases of gold smuggling were reported in 2016-17 fiscal. About 260 kgs of gold, valued at Rs 76.31 crore (as per the current market rate), was seized by the customs at the Delhi airport, he said.

About 100 people were arrested in these cases, the official said.

“There was a major decline in gold smuggling cases during the period of demonetization and even after that. The primary reason behind it was that the note ban completely stopped hawala transaction, a major chunk of which is used to illegally bring the yellow metal in the country,” he said.

Besides, there has been heightened surveillance at the airport to check smuggling.

“We have caught a lot of people based on intelligence input,” the official said.

The customs officials maintain a high vigil at the Delhi airport as it is one of the entry points in the country which registers maximum number of cases of gold smuggling.

In the last two months—April and May—of this year, the customs officials have registered more than 15 cases and seized 32 kgs of gold, valuing about Rs. 10.27 crore, being smuggled into India from abroad.

As many as 30 people were arrested in these cases, the official said.

Smugglers are adopting novel modus operandi to smuggle gold into the country.

The customs officials had recently arrested a wheelchair-bound senior citizen for allegedly trying to smuggle gold valued at around Rs. 93 lakhs.

In April, an Air India security officer and a Japanese national were among three persons arrested by the customs for allegedly smuggling into the country gold worth about Rs. 2.3 crore.