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Stuck at Customs: Is it a plane, or a drone? It's neither, explains a father who ordered Tintin figurines for daughter

Lawyer Nitin Sarin had ordered two figurines from Belgium. But Customs officials detained it at Delhi airport, wondering if they were drones

August 25, 2020 / 07:15 PM IST

Blistering barnacles!

That is how Captain Archibald Haddock, the character from popular comics series of Tintin, would have reacted. And one wouldn't fault with Nitin Sarin if he had too.

On August 24, the Chandigarh-based lawyer got a call from delivery service company FedEx, informing that a shipment in Sarin's name has been detained by the Customs department at Delhi's international airport.

The objection raised by the Customs officials was:"Import of drones/planes not allowed. Proper description of goods and value evidence required."

The Managing Partner of Sarin & Co, which specialises in aviation law, was confused but soon realised that the shipment in question was nothing but two figurines he had ordered from Tintin's online boutique, from Belgium. The figurines were of Air India plane models, based on illustrations from Tintin in Tibet, one of the titles from the comic series.


But why would Customs officials have a problem with plane models that Sarin had ordered for his two-year-old daughter?

As it turned out, what had probably alerted customs officials was the description on the two models - Air India plane, and Air India aeroplane. The officials, probably being cautious -  or bordering on overcautious - wanted to check if the shipment included drones.

Drones are among the list of prohibited items that can't be imported into India. If one does want to import, said industry observers, then approvals from multiple agencies, including aviation regulator DGCA, are needed.

Sarin hadn't because he didn't want a drone. Just a figurine.

"I have spent the morning sending a 17-page reply to FedEx, explaining that the items are toys and not anything that can be classified in drones/restricted category," Sarin told Moneycontrol. The 17-page reply included copies of the transaction, receipt and pictures of the two figurines.

"I have imported hundreds of diecast airplane models. All via registered post, not a single finger was raised," said Sarin, who also specialises in Customs and Excise laws.

Screen Shot 2020-08-25 at 4.09.23 PM


The lawyer is not alone in having similar experiences. Soon after Sarin shared his experience on social media platform Twitter, he drew responses from Twitterati who had similar experiences, with documents and car models.

Check out some of the responses:

And this one:

By all accounts, Sarin may also have to wait, anything from a week to a fortnight before his shipment is cleared. In other words, while the two figurines reached India - from Belgium - within 10 days, it may take longer for them to clear the Customs officials scrutiny.

"Ten thousand thundering typhoons!" is how Captain Haddock would have described it.
Prince Mathews Thomas heads the corporate bureau of Moneycontrol. He has been covering the business world for 16 years, having worked in The Hindu Business Line, Forbes India, Dow Jones Newswires, The Economic Times, Business Standard and The Week. A Chevening scholar, Prince has also authored The Consolidators, a book on second generation entrepreneurs.
first published: Aug 25, 2020 05:29 pm
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