Saturday 20 September 2014

Importing Goods for Personal Use, Please Check for Customs Duty

Here is an interesting piece of information I discovered last week in conversation with a friend who routinely does online shopping. Inherently all of us are looking for a good deal and we don't really care where the goods come from. If you are shopping from a foreign site, usually for fragrances and cosmetics, you are most likely to get a good deal. You pay by your card and the goods are shipped either by post or courier.  So far so good.

If your shipment tracker informs you that your shipment has arrived in India and is handed over for customs clearance, you may be in for a bit of trouble. Apparently there is a rule that you cannot import anything into the country by post or air for personal use worth more than Rs. 2000/- (including freight and insurance) unless it is a gift or a sample (both of which you have not paid for) in which case the limit is Rs. 10,000/-. If you do so your goods will be liable to confiscation or you will be liable to pay duty and penalty which can be Rs. 5000/-. Furthermore if you do not claim it within 15 days, the goods will be disposed by auction. Basically it means that you need to have necessary permits to import goods over a certain value or to do it through someone who has them.

Not many would be aware of this rule. None of your shipments may have even been intercepted. But if they do come under checking, you will receive a letter from the customs authorities to present yourself for appraisal and examination of your shipment. You will be asked to bring along a whole lot of documents of which you may have only the copy of the invoice and shipment advice. Once at the customs office the shipment will be opened in your presence, examined and it will be determined as to whether duty is to be levied as well as penalty. If you are living in Mumbai or any of the cities where the appraisal and examination is conducted at the inbound airport, you are lucky. If you are living at a distance which will consume at least half a day of travel or more, you may have to decide whether to pursue your shipment based on its value or let it be put up for auction.

But apparently there is a way out of this. The rule is applicable on per shipment basis and not on the total value you import in a year. So as long as each of your shipment is less than Rs. 2000/- (CIF), you are doing good. So if you are buying multiple items from a single foreign website and the value is exceeding Rs. 2000/- make sure you split it into multiple shipments. You may lose out on the free shipping and may also have to bear extra shipping, but it will save you a lot of money and trouble once the goods are in the country.

Another interesting observation is that goods shipped by express delivery are far more likely to be examined than those by ordinary shipping. Many will tell you that that they have received their shipments through ordinary post with a demand for customs duty attached to it and the postman collects it from you at your doorstep. Guess it's a matter of luck.
So the next time you shop online at a foreign website make sure to check the import rules and the limits beforehand.

Tuesday 16 September 2014

The System Works

A few months back the general elections were held and as usual there was a scurry of activity amongst all political parties to ensure that all eligible voters had their names in voting lists. I have been a regular voter at all elections held till then. However under a voter eligibility exercise undertaken by the Election Commission (EC), a whole lot of citizens found themselves with missing rights. Apparently whoever did not answer the Election Commission's knock on the door were delisted. In a city like Mumbai where almost everyone is out at work during the day, there would be few retaining their rights in this manner.

Damage done, the EC swung into immediate action. One could visit the EC website or the local office, check whether your name has been deleted and then fill a certain form for enrollment. You have to submit some proof of identity and address along with photo. Nothing complicated. You could do it for yourself and all your family members as well.

The EC website for Maharashtra was extremely helpful, informative as to the purpose, and easy to navigate ( To my advantage the Karyakarta of the local political party provided me with the polling district number and the correct district name. I entered the details and lo behold, the details of my name deletion were before me. I quickly downloaded the enrollment form, and also took a print of the proof of name deletion.

The enrollment form was not at all complicated. Only basic details like name, address, and date of birth. Details of other family members who are registered voters at the same address which I guess was for a quick search and a ready reference. If you held a voting card, mention those details as well. Form filled, photocopies of proofs made and self attested, I headed to the local EC office at 11 am by which time I was sure the staff would be in their seats.

The local office of the EC was in a municipal school occupying the entire assembly hall on the ground floor. The staff seemed to have been sourced from various state government departments. On enquiring I was directed to a window that opened onto the back of the school. There were just 5 persons standing in front of me. Should not take long I thought. Well not the right thought I must say. The first person took 20 minutes which kind of set the tone for a long wait. The question to me was why was it taking so long if it was just about form submission. The problem was not about the process or staff attitude. It was the applicant who either did not have all the information requested for or was trying to establish some right for his residence or simply could not comprehend what was asked for in the application form despite its simplicity. Most of the time I realized was being spent in locating the listing of the applicant in the original list wherefrom it had been deleted. The applicants were either giving a wrong plot number or road or quoting the wrong name of their building or at times their nick names, suffixes and prefixes (a whole lot of balu, bandya, gotya, appa, anna, nana, tai, ben, etc). I have to admit that the person manning the window was showing huge patience in handling such crowds. Add to that each of the applicant was carrying application forms for almost all their family members.

When my turn came after about 75 minutes, I simply handed over my form and the copy of my original listing that had been deleted. The man at the window could not have been happier. All he had to do now was pull out the book with the number that corresponded with the number on the print I had handed him, go to the page number that was also mentioned, and confirm my name and address. This took less than a minute. Next he stamped my form, entered all corresponding numbers to my name in a separate book, stamped my acknowledgement and handed it back to me. Then he proceeded to thank me thrice and how I had helped him. Total time taken about 3 minutes.

I thanked the staffer and walked away feeling pleased at having done my duty. A month later I received a letter from the EC informing me that my name had been deleted from the voting list and that I should fill in the attached forms and submit them at the nearest EC office. Arrgghh. What happened to all my efforts. I chose to do nothing immediately and thought of visiting the EC office when the next elections were announced.

Yesterday I got a message from the friendly neighbourhood karyakarta informing me that the voters lists had been updated. If my name was still missing I have an opportunity to update it in the next three days.

I went back to the EC website ( and entered my name in the prescribed form in the search field for updated lists. My name appeared with my correct age and address. I even had the option of downloading the entire voters list for my district in PDF form and confirm my details.

The system works as long as you co-operate with it.