GUWAHATI, Oct 22 - Smuggled Chinese goods continue to flood Assam markets, and calls for their boycott have not had much impact on either traders or consumers.
In fact, Sunday�s seizure of garments from a flight at LGBI airport is only the tip of the iceberg.
The only barometer for estimating the volume of smuggling good in the markets is the seizure figures of contraband by Customs or Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) officials. However, even by that yardstick, it is alarmingly evident that smuggling of good from China and other South Asian countries has become a megabuck business and is hitting new highs.
In the financial year 2015-16, Customs officials here seized goods worth over Rs 3.41 crore. Ready-made garments (worth Rs 1.43 crore) topped the seizures. Chinese mobile phones worth Rs 30.84 lakh were also seized during the year, besides toys and decorating lights.
In the year 2014-15, the value of mobile phones seized was over Rs 18 lakh. Ready-made garments, electronic goods, fabrics, desk lamps etc., worth over Rs 13 lakh were seized during the period. In the year, 2013-14, goods worth over Rs 30 lakh were seized, of which shoes alone were worth Rs 17 lakh and mobile phones over Rs 8 lakh.
Customs officials admit the seizures account for approximately 10-20 per cent of the total contraband goods in the market.
�Earlier, traders in Guwahati used to get the goods from agents, some of whom are based in places like Delhi and Mumbai. Now, the volume of business has multiplied so much that the traders have started going to China directly or to meet agents based in other South Asian countries, like Thailand, to procure the goods. One of the traders who often visits China told me you get almost everything there. Even construction materials are being brought from China,� a market watcher in Fancy Bazar told The Assam Tribune.
A source in the lighting industry said the share of Chinese LED lights in the market is roughly 15-18 per cent. But during Diwali, most of the decorating lights sold, are Chinese-made, he said.
�These Chinese products come at a price which is around 60 per cent less than the branded ones. However, they do not come with any warrantee or guarantee, unlike the branded ones,� the source said.
Customs officials say the Chinese goods enter India through Myanmar and other border points in the Northeast. While most of the smugglers take the land route, some even book them in flight cargos.
�Generally, they bring in the goods in small quantities to avoid detection. Many a time, the goods are stuffed among other items India can legally import from Myanmar,� the official said. The agents based in Siliguri, Delhi, Mumbai etc., act as distributors. Some goods are also transported via train from Dimapur to rest of India.
According to a study, textiles imported from China may be exposing people to toxic levels of carcinogenic chemicals.
Also, a wide range of toys and children�s products, including those sold by reputable brands, apparently contained either lead, arsenic, cadmium, mercury, antimony or chromium. All six heavy metals can cause permanent damage to a child�s nervous and immune systems, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention had said, warning that there is no safe threshold for lead exposure and that children, if possible, should never be in contact with it. But these health hazards too have not stopped consumers from shying away from the cheap products.
India had banned the import of Chinese toys for six months in 2008 on grounds of public health and safety.
Smugglers are also bring in R-22 (HCFC-22) gas, also known as hydrochlorofluorocarbon, from China. R-22 is a colourless gas commonly used as a propellant and refrigerant. Last year, over Rs 1.2 crore worth R-22 gas smuggled from China was seized in Assam.