Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday called for use of technology and intergovernmental cooperation to catch the ‘big fish’ behind smuggling and illicit trade networks.

Addressing the Global Conference on Cooperation in Enforcement Matters organised by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), she said the focus of enforcement agencies should be to nab the ‘brain’ behind illegal trade, which would act as a deterrence for such unlawful activities that hurt the economy as well as the citizens. The nature of smuggled or illegally traded goods has not changed over the last 50-60 years and it continues to be precious metals, narcotics, and precious reserves from forest or marine life.

“It is important for all governments to know how to deter smuggling activities which are endangering our wild flora and fauna, how to deter activities where networked groups think that small fries can be sacrificed, police or customs authorities can catch hold of this small (fries) and larger fish, which is the brain behind, is never going to be caught,” she said.

No newer areas

Further, she added that there are no newer areas on which the customs authorities are baffled. If this is the way it is showing a trend over the decade, by now most of us should be fairly informed of who are the forces behind it. “I place a lot of emphasis on intergovernmental cooperation, along with WCO (World Customs Organisation), so that we are able to crack the brains behind it (smuggling), the masterminds behind it, with the help from local authorities and governments,” the Minister said.

She emphasised that deterrence of illicit trade will be strengthened if all confiscated goods are destroyed and not put into the market. “It is also our duty to restore confidence in the minds of citizens saying such activities will be punished, will be curbed, and will be deterred. So if only gold, cigarettes, narcotics, antiques and wildlife materials are being smuggled, it is your experience, which will have to show us the direction and the path forward so that we are able to contain this evil because it hurts all our economies,” Sitharaman said.

Armed with technology

Stating that prevention and deterrence would help in curbing the menace of illicit trade and smuggling, she said enforcement agencies are at an advantageous position as they are armed with technology. “Technology should go hand in hand with information sharing. And when you share information, it should be actionable,” the Minister said. The sharing of information should also include innovative thoughts, on legislations which have empowered authorities and on procedures which have come in handy, she said.

During the conference, Revenue Secretary Sanjay Malhotra said while combating the menace of smuggling is important, there is also a need to put in place trade facilitative measures, which reduce costs of business and enhance competitiveness.

“The sheer scale of smuggling, use of advanced technology and the presence of highly sophisticated networks make their (illegal trade) detection very difficult and challenging. Adoption of modern technology by law enforcement agencies are therefore required to deal with this menace,” Malhotra added.