Importers whose consignments from China have been held up at ports and container freight stations across the country are a worried lot.
It has been five days since the consignments were held for examination, but the process has not yet begun, sources told CNBC-TV18.
The instructions to customs officials clearing the cargo, from their superiors are to “Open and de-stuff all container cargo and examine 100 percent (all packages) at the item level. Verify declared quantity, description, address, other notification claimed valuation, and check for concealment”, according to information accessed by CNBC-TV18.
Customs officials say they have received a tip-off from intelligence agencies about narcotics being brought in via Chinese containers. But with the containers not yet being been opened for examination, importers are worried about the additional costs, opportunity and actual.
Most Chinese import orders are pre-paid as the country rarely ships orders on credit. Add to that the penalties on delays that importers will have to pay shipping lines and Container Freight Stations (CFSes), if these are not explicitly waived off by a government order.
Container Freight Stations and shipping lines are privately operated.
Industry bodies have highlighted that prolonged delays will hamper production by affecting the supply chain.
“We fear that if the supply chain is broken then there will be severe
shortage of essential communication, equipment required for health, work-from-home and online education goods such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, since alternative supplies are not available in the local and global markets amidst the COVID-19 outbreak,” electronics body ICMEA said in its letter to the Finance Ministry and customs authority. It also said that opening finished products could lead to their getting soiled and becoming unfit for sale.
Industry bodies are worried about the lack of official communication from the government to port authorities or to the companies about the timelines for releasing the containers. Customs officials have only verbally passed on these orders to all authorities including ports and CFSes.
According to import-export traders, shipments are routinely held and examined based on intelligence reports but not at this scale.
Importers have already paid heavy demurrages during lockdown period, and fear this will pile on heavy penalties on them as shipping companies and port authorities have not waived off any so far.
Shipping company DHL Express has suspended picking shipments from China, Hong Kong and Macau destined for India with immediate effect for the next 10 days. The move comes amid uncertainty surrounding clearance of consignments from China and Hong Kong at sea and airports in India, DHL Express said.
“Over the last few days we are witnessing a severe lag in customs clearance for shipments originating from China, Hong Kong and Macau across all the ports in India”, DHL said in an email to clients who were adversely impacted, a copy of which was seen by CNBC-TV18.
The letter read, “This [the lag in clearance] has led to uncontrollable queuing, congestion and delays of shipments in our clearance ports across the country.”