Swiss notes are landing in Calcutta

Demonetisation is bringing boxfuls of notes from Switzerland to Calcutta, but it's not the famed black money from Swiss banks.

By Sanjay Mandal in Calcutta
  • Published 20.12.16

Calcutta, Dec. 19: Demonetisation is bringing boxfuls of notes from Switzerland to Calcutta, but it's not the famed black money from Swiss banks.

Eighteen chartered cargo planes from Zurich have landed in the city in the past two-and-a-half months carrying blank watermarked notes that are being printed at the currency press in Salboni, West Midnapore.

That's 16 to 17 more chartered cargo planes than the airport, serving a business-starved region, usually sees in a year.

Each plane has been bringing 100 tonnes of the notes stashed in 280 wooden boxes, each measuring 0.6 cubic metre, to be driven the 150km to Salboni in five or six trailers.

Sources said two more such chartered flights would arrive on Wednesday and Saturday. They said the notes are manufactured by Landqart AG, a Swiss maker of substrates (material) for banknotes, passports and visa applications.

An official involved in the transfer and handling of the consignments said usually such cargo was brought by ship and received at ports.

"But because of the demonetisation, these blank notes were needed to be brought very fast in large volumes, so chartered flights were the only option," he said.

The arrivals began in end-September, when the government started speeding up printing of banknotes ahead of the recall of the old high-denomination currency.

It couldn't be ascertained how much extra it was costing the Reserve Bank of India to rent Boeing 777s from the Emirates airline to fly the 7,500km from Zurich, a 15-hour flight requiring a refuelling stop in Dubai.

But airport officials here aren't complaining. They have already raised their cargo-handling target for the current financial year to 50,000 tonnes.

The officials explained that although the hike in target from last year wasn't huge, the earnings would be substantially higher. Airports charge more for freight ferried by chartered cargo flights than that brought by passenger flights or ordinary cargo planes.

Officials at the airport's cargo division said the last time they had seen a sizeable number of chartered flights was three to four years ago, when they carried in television set-top boxes from China and Hong Kong. "But the number was nowhere near this time," an official said.

Chartered flights are usually rented if the cargo is confidential or its volume is large. As an industrial backwater, Bengal doesn't attract or generate enough international cargo to make the airport's cargo terminal viable.

On an average month, the airport handles about 4,000 tonnes of cargo - including that from passenger aircraft - while Mumbai handles around 15,000 tonnes, Airports Authority of India officials in Delhi said.

The AAI has offered sops to airlines and companies to attract more cargo to Calcutta but without much success. Recently, it has allowed Calcutta airport to offer special low rates for the handling of Europe-bound cargo from Dhaka, which was earlier sent through other airports.

Calcutta airport mainly receives imports in the form of machinery, laptops, computer parts and mobile phones.