Hundreds of Indian expatriates are signing up an online petition seeking the withdrawal of customs duty on gold ornaments while travelling to their country.
The mass petition addressed to the new Indian Finance Minister, P. Chidambaram, was authored by UAE-based Indian social worker K. V. Shamsudheen, who had previously sent a petition demanding the same to the Indian Prime Minister’s Office.
The new petition seeks the intervention of the finance minister to permit Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) to bring at least 100gm of gold by male passengers and 200gm of gold by female passengers without paying tax. As per a recently reintroduced 1960s’ customs rule, male passengers travelling to India can carry gold worth only Rs10,000 and women passengers Rs20,000. The passengers have to declare the gold and pay duty if he or she has gold worth an excess amount.
Posted on www.change.org on August 3, the online petition has been signed by more than 400 people by Thursday evening. The majority of the people who have signed the petition available at http://www.change.org/petitions/pravasi-bandhu-welfare-trust-withdraw-customs-duty-on-gold-ornaments-2 are NRIs from the UAE and other GCC countries. Many have joined the campaign from India as well.
Rajesh Sasidhar from Dubai, who also prompted three of his friends to sign the petition, said it (the customs duty on gold) is an injustice to NRIs. “Modify the law and implement if required. We are the backbone of the Indian economy and don’t take advantage on our limitations...,” he wrote as the reason for signing.
Prakash Mehta from Abu Dhabi wrote that the rule needs to be abolished. “It is being misused by custom officials and they are harassing the passengers even for the ornaments worn by them. Anyone bringing (gold) for commercial purposes can be subject to customs duty. However, gold for personal use within a limit of maximum say 10 tola (in addition to the jewellery worn by them) by an individual should not be levied the customs duty.”
Shamsudheen is the chairman of Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust that has been affiliated to the Indian Community Welfare under the patronage of the Indian Consulate in Dubai. “I have witnessed customs officials interrogating passengers and some of them are paying tax while some are keeping their excess gold with the official custody of Airport Customs and taking the same back while returning to the foreign country. Some newspaper reports (say) that customs officials are taking bribe and freeing passengers,” he said in the petition.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, Shamsudheen said he had received a letter from the Indian Prime Minister’s Office on Tuesday stating that the petition he had sent to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in July had been forwarded to the revenue department.
“I felt there is a need for gathering (of) more support for this demand. I’m sure I’ll get good support since most Indians want to revoke the more than 50-year-old law that charges customs duty on gold based on its weight, not the value,” said Shamsudheen, who offers counseling to distressed Indians and has conducted nearly 300 awareness camps across the GCC.
Shamsudheen, who is sending daily updates about the mass petition to the finance ministry, is also using his facebook page with more than 5,000 friends and twitter account with over 500 followers for garnering more signatures for the mass petition.
In 2006, Shamsudheen had launched an online petition addressing the then Civil Aviation Minister of India, demanding an open air policy that will allow international airlines to operate from the Calicut International Airport in Kerala.
That petition, which can still be viewed at ttp://www.petitiononline.com/petitions/CJT1107/signatures , had received 8,035 signatures. Eventually, the government allowed international airlines, the first being Sharjah’s Air Arabia, to operate directly to and from the Calicut airport.