Mumbai, Oct. 3: Two gates of the Mumbai International Airport were left unmanned for around five hours this evening.
An apparent battle of egos between customs officials and personnel of the Central Industrial Security Force, which handles airport security across the country, led to the pullout of guards from Gates 1 and 6 of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport. Gate 1 is at the domestic wing of the airport and Gate 6 at the international section.
The clash began after the customs officials intercepted two vans belonging to the CISF. “We had a tip-off that drugs were being smuggled in these vehicles. We had been especially alert as, about a month back, two CISF officers were caught on the airport premises while they were aiding smugglers’ handlers. The CISF suspended 20 of its officials who were part of this gold-smuggling racket. But the CISF took offence when we tried to inspect their two vehicles on Wednesday,” said a customs source.
The customs officials found nothing on the two CISF vans. But since the vehicles did not possess the documents required to enter the high-security zone, they were impounded.
“The CISF officers and their men then walked out in huff from two gates — one at the international airport used to transport cargo, luggage and food to different airlines and another leading to the airstrip at the domestic airport. We had to then place our own men at these gates so that security was not compromised. But there was a time lapse,” said the customs source.
According to rules, access control at airports is the sole prerogative of the CISF.
But CISF sources narrated a different version.
“Customs commissioner Saleem reached Gate 6 around 2pm to see his wife off. When CISF personnel checked his vehicle, he got very upset. Gate 6 is to be used for cargo, not passengers’ entry. An altercation took place and in no time, some 10-15 customs officials and others came there and got into a row with the CISF men, accusing them of insulting Saleem. Then their air intelligence unit officials came and declared that they would be taking charge of Gates 1 and 6 from where customs had removed our men,” said a senior CISF officer.
Asked why the CISF personnel gave up their responsibility and walked off, the officer insisted that though they stopped manning the gates, the men did not move away from the gate but “kept a watch from a distance”.
“We filed a complaint with the Airport Authority of India and the Bureau of Civil Aviation Standards (BCAS) about the bizarre situation. They stepped in and the matter has now been amicably resolved. Our men are back at work,” the CISF officer said, adding that the customs allegation of drug smuggling in CISF vans was a false one.
The drama ended around 7.30pm when the CISF personnel returned to the gates. The BCAS has ordered a probe into the bizarre incident.