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Background- Cantonments & Military Stations in India

Cantonments derive their name from Swiss Cantons, or districts and were set up by the British in India for entirely different reasons. When the British troops arrived in India, they fell sick very often due to malaria, dysentery and other infectious and waterborne diseases. These diseases also took a toll on Indian troops. Thus it was decided to create Army cantonments well away from cities, often in the wilderness, at the very outskirts of city limits. The additional advantage of such a move was that parades, training and marches with horse’s, mules etc would not inconvenience the local population. It also helped in keeping the native soldiers isolated from the local developments, thereby ensuring their apolitical character.

It is to the credit of the Army that these outlying areas where they were shunted away, became islands of excellence and oasis of greenery; the modern equivalent of smart cities. Today, they are the lungs and biodiversity havens of most cities.

The first cantonment was established in Barrackpore in 1765 and the last one created recently was Ajmer. There are a total of 62 cantonments, mostly in Central and Western Command. These are distinct from military stations which number about 2000 and are exclusive for the army. The current order on road opening thankfully does not apply to military stations.

The Army is fully considerate of the needs of the Nation and has not only allowed access to cantonments but also given away prime defence land for public good. The Delhi metro link from Dhaula Kuan in New Delhi going to the airport is entirely built on defence land given by the army. So is the Dwarka flyover coming to Palam and beyond. The new road to airport in Hyderabad and Chennai has been given access through defence land. Cantonments have also parted with hundreds of acres of land to expand airports in places like Gwalior and many more.

The imbroglio

While Cantonment roads leading to civilian areas have always been open to public, however, internal roads where military units, installations & HQ are located cannot be declared public roads & thrown open to everyone without ensuring mandatory security checks.

Military areas of Cantonments have been defined as Prohibited areas & are not under cCantonments Board

Administration of Defence Land in Military Cantonments is governed by the Cantonment Land Administration Rules (CLAR) 1937. These have been notified by Govt on the authority of powers conferred upon it underCantonments Act. Though the Cantonments Act 2006 has now replaced earlier Cantonments Act 1924, the CLAR have remained unchanged. Section 4 of CLAR defines Classification of Cantonment Lands. Class A & B Lands which are required for Military purposes are not vested with Cantonment Boards. Cantonment Boards are vested with Class C Lands which mainly comprise of civilian areas/ non-military areas. Hence, Cantonment Boards govern only those areas of Cantonment which are located on Class C Lands.

Classification of Cantonment lands as per CLA Rules 1937
Classification of Cantonment lands as per CLA Rules 1937

On the other hand, Class A & B Lands are governed by Military Authorities in accordance with provisions contained in Officials Secrets Act & Defence Services Regulations. As per Section 2(8)(a) of Official Secrets Act 1923, all Military areas/ establishments fall under the category of Prohibited places.

Prohibited place according to Official Secrets Act
Prohibited place according to Official Secrets Act

Trespassing/entering into Prohibited areas without valid Identity & Purpose is a criminal offence under Section 3 & 5 of Officials Secrets Act. It is punishable under CrPC, as clarified in Section 12 of OS Act.

Armed Forces are empowered under Officials Secrets Act 1923

Armed Forces personnel have been empowered under Sections 7& 8 of OS Act 1923 to implement the security provisions in Military areas as applicable to Prohibited areas. Interfering with members of Armed Forces while implementing provisions of Officials Secret Act is a punishable offence under Section 7 & 8 of said Act.

Procedure to be adopted for Security of Military areas/establishments/ installations

Procedure to be adopted by Armed Forces personnel for ensuring security of military areas/ installations has been prescribed by Govt in Paras 1160, 1161 & Appendix AD of Defence Services Regulations 1987 (Revised). Armed Forces are empowered to establish check posts, barriers etc & ascertain identity of visitors before allowing them entry into military areas of Cantonments. Relevant extracts from DSR are placed below.

Court Judgements upholding authority of Armed Forces over military areas of Cantonments

The legal validity of CLAR 1937, inapplicability of Cantonments Board Act 2006 over military areas, applicability of Officials Secrets Act 1923 over military areas & the applicability of authority of Armed Forces over military areas of Cantonments has been unambiguously upheld by a Bench of Andhra Pradesh High Court in its Judgement dated 26 September 2014. AP High Court had ruled on a collection of writ petitions and PILs against the closure of the 14 roads in Secunderabad Cantonment mentioned by the Defence Minister. Dismissing all the petitions, the Hon’ble High Court had ruled that these closures were valid and within defined powers of the Military authorities. On the other hand, it took cognisance of the fact that petitioners wanted to use these roads “for convenience or because of their better motorability”, a matter that “required immediate attention of the civilian authorities” who should “take expeditious steps to improve the alternate roads so that ordinary people are not subject to any inconvenience.” It further stated that “the army authorities have imposed restrictions in a phased manner and such decision cannot be held as one made in an arbitrary manner.” Since the Cantonment Act of 2006 is cited in above judgement, it is clear that the ruling did not consider any irregularity vis a vis the same. It’s on the strength of this Judgement that the 14 roads had been closed in Secunderabad despite orders by MoD.

Illegal settlements/ colonies/ structures adjacent to military installations

As per Section 7 of Works of Defence Act 1903, constructions are prohibited upto a specified distance from perimeter of notified Defence installations for security considerations. However, over the years, a huge number of illegal settlements/ structures have come up in notified areas. Though the Cantonments were originally set up away from habitation, these have now become prime locations due to growth of towns/ cities around them. Many of the illegal settlements/ structures belong to politically influential people. The case in point is ongoing construction of illegal structure on the land acquired by ruling Party leader in Nagrota in J&K next to ammunition dump, despite objections by Army.

Encroachment of Defence Land

Presently over 11,000 acres of Defence Land is under illegal encroachments. Total value of encroached land runs in thousands of crores of rupees. Most of these encroachers have links with political parties/ political personalities. State wise details of encroachments as informed to Parliament in August 2014 are given below:-

Illegal occupation/ conversion of Grand Old Bungalows (OGB)

There are 2724 OGBs whose lease period has already expired. The lease holders were barred from carrying out any additions/alterations/conversions. However, most of these have been converted into commercial establishments, hotels, including shopping malls. Most of these have changed many hands and are presently in the hands of influential political/ business personalities. Despite Hon’ble SC ruling in May 2014 clearing all legal hurdles for reclaiming all OGBs, officials with vested interests in Govt have not allowed taking over of these Bungalows till date. Resumption sanction has been accorded only in 660 cases, of which only 508 have been physically Resumed till date.

Loss of Revenue due to Non Renewal of Lease

There are number of Govt properties on Defence land which are on lease for commercial/ recreational/ residential purposes. The lease deed of these properties has not been renewed for decades deliberately by DGDE Officials. In addition, there are numerous properties which are without any lease agreement. All this has been resulting in huge annual revenue loss to Govt, running in thousands of crores. In Delhi alone, this loss amounts to hundreds of crores annually.

Who is Responsible for Encroachments, Loss of Revenue & Gross Mismanagement of Defence Land & Defence Properties

Over 99% of cases of encroachments, loss of revenue & mismanagement of Defence Land pertains to Class B/ C Lands. As per CLAR 1937 & Cantonments Board Act 2006, DG Defence Estates (DGDE) is responsible for management of these Lands/ properties. Encroachments & Mismanagement of Defence Lands has been well documented in annual CAG Reports. However, encroachments & mismanagement cases have only been increasing with each passing year. Relevant Extracts from CAG Reports are placed below.

How serious is the nexus between DGDE, MoD Officials & Encroachers

Unable to control encroachments, Controller General of Defence Accounts (CGDA) was tasked in 2010 to carry out a systems study & detailed analysis of management of Defence Lands. CGDA in its Report concluded that there is deep nexus between DGDE Officials and encroachers & that this nexus has become so entrenched that it is not possible to break free. It has resulted in systematic loot of Govt land. It found DGDE failing in all four of its functions- audit, accounting, acquisition & financial management. Hence, CGDA recommended for disbandment of DGDE & prosecution of its officials.

Events leading to current illegal orders by MoD

While CGDA recommended prosecution of DGDE officials & disbandment of DGDE in 2010, nothing actually happened on ground due to their nexus with MoD officials. As a result, encroachments kept increasing & Govt coffers kept bleeding of its revenue. In May 2014, Hon’ble SC delivered a historic judgement related to Old Grand Bungalows, paving way for Govt to reclaim all 2724 OGBs. The present occupants of these Bungalows include MPs, MLAs (from all parties), civil servants & prominent businessmen. In Sep 2014, Hon’ble High Court of Andhra Pradesh delivered another Judgement, clarifying that jurisdiction of Cantonment Board does not extent to military areas of Cantonments & that LMA is empowered to close roads in military areas. The Court directed State Govt to provide alternate roads to civil population. In the same year the issue of encroachment of Defence Land was raised in Parliament. In a written reply to Lok Sabha MP Poonam Mahajan in August 2014, then Defence Minister Arun Jaitley admitted that around 11,455 acres of defence land had been encroached. Following these reports, Common Cause, an NGO based out of Delhi, along with Centre for Public Interest Litigation (CPIL), filed a petition in the Supreme Court concerning the unauthorised use and encroachment of defence land. The petition alleged that “crass mismanagement of Defence lands is intrinsically linked to irregularities, illegalities and corruption”. The petition relied heavily on CAG reports, and is still sub judice. The last order passed by the Court was on August 25, 2017.

Hidden Agenda behind Opening of Internal Cantonment Roads

Instead of implementing the SC Judgement for reclaiming OGBs & AP High Court Judgement for creating alternate routes, the local MPs of Cantonment areas built an alliance of interest with local representatives of areas adjoining the 62 cantonments. This group seems to have started the whole discussion de novo once Ms Sitharaman was appointed the Defence Minister. She & her husband are known to own residential & commercial properties around Hyderabad-Secunderabad Cantonments.

The Local Military Authorities (LMAs) have been regularly raising these issues. The market value of encroached land & properties runs in hundreds of thousands of crores of rupees. However, corruption is so deep rooted in Defence Estates & MoD that, instead of implementing Court Judgements, these Officials by using their powerful nexus have now been able to force the Govt to give them overriding powers thereby making the LMAs irrelevant. Unrestricted opening of Cantonments roads is one such decision pushed by these Officials at the behest of encroachers & illegal occupiers of Defence land & Defence properties to facilitate their consolidation. National security considerations matter least to these looters of Govt land. This is likely to further facilitate encroachments & consolidation illegally occupied properties. See the details of parleys held by RM with these eople without involvement of Military Authorities.

Illegality of Orders by RM

The Orders by RM are in contravention to provisions of Official Secrets Act, Cantonments Act, CLAR & Defence Services Regulations. Not only do these instructions completely ignore the AP High Court Judgement of September 2014 and subsequent deliberations and the decision by her predecessor Mr Parrrikar, but also subsume the powers of the GOC-in-C to be the final authority for closing any roads as laid down in the Act of 2006. RM had repeatedly quoted provisions of Cantonments Act which are not applicable to military areas of Cantonments. The instructions by RM for unconditional opening of all Cantonment roads quoting inapplicable Section of Cantonments Act clearly amounts to contempt of court. These have far reaching adverse implications not only on Cantonment Security but also on attempts to control encroachment of Govt land. AF pers have been performing their bonafide military duty when controlling entry into military areas for last so many decades. Placing of of check posts/ barriers etc & ascertaining of identity of visitors is part of prescribed procedures.
The instructions by RM have been issued after consultations with DGDE officials, MoD Officials & local area representatives, who have vested interests in opening of Cantonment

Roads. Whether she was misled or she has been deliberately misleading the Nation remains to be seen.

Disclosure of bias: I am biased against mainstream schools as currently exist in India and think they do more harm than good. We need better schools and for reasons more than security.

This is the second murder in a Ryan International School. Last year, in February, a child was found drowned in the Ryan International School in Vasant Kunj. Now there is a child found stabbed to death in the Ryan International School in Gurgaon.

Very conveniently there is the confession of a murder on TV by a bus conductor. Soon, the predictable will happen. The bus conductor will be the villain. Lawyers are already refusing to represent him, which will always leave the question of whether he is taking the fall for someone else.

The questions not being asked are how after having one murder in the school, the safety of students was still lax enough for a murder to happen in the toilet of a school. It does not explain what a bus conductor was doing in the children's toilet to begin with to have the opportunity - if at all he is the murderer as he is confessing.

But more than that, it does not explain what children were doing in that school at all. Or, for that matter, any school. The Delhi Gang Rape used a school bus to commit a horrendous rape. The driver of the bus was ferrying children on a daily basis till caught. Much outrage had ensued. Much vanishing of who the owner of the bus was happened. Sheila Dixit made it mandatory for schools to run background checks.

What happened? When the child was found dead in the Ryan International School in Vasant Kunj, many excuses were made to shrug off responsibility like he had a habit of wandering. Seriously? A child had a habit of not being in class and wandering the school and no one found it odd enough to investigate or be alert for?

I wonder at the gullibility of parents who send children to school. In an age when we don't see a two hour film without reading a review or hearing word of mouth praise first, how is it that parents commit 10 years of a child's time without so much as asking whether it is necessary at all to spend 10 years to learn to read and write.

But that is the real thing. Schools are not a service to children, they are a service to parents - a service that gets the kid out of your hair for most of the day, and installs all the knowledge a "standard human being" should have as per a template. It has nothing to do with a child's needs. Nor does it have any ability to predict what knowledge a child will need to function in the world as an adult. Most of you who learned how to calculate square roots in school have never done it after leaving school. Most of you who mugged up names of random places in the world have never found use for that information as an adult. What a child does in school has nothing to do with a child's needs.

We recognize the vulnerability of children and think they are stupid, but have no hesitation sending them off to an environment which may not be safe on their own without us. I could easily get a high paying job instead of making do with working from home. The reason I don't is that my son can't speak. Till he isn't able to tell me about his day and complain if he had a problem, not a chance I'm leaving him to strangers in day-care. I have no intentions of allowing someone who could potentially be harming my child to speak for him. And when I say harm, I include so much as intimidating or insulting a child or subjecting them to the indignity of sarcasm and taunts. Let alone murder.

I must wonder at parents who can comfortably trust a school and not think further. When there is a rape or a murder, parents suddenly get all traumatized. Parents reading about it imagine their innocent child in that place, all broken and dead, they can't bear it. Many cry, can't get images out of their heads. But it isn't like they won't send their child to school or will go and land up in the school of their own child and demand to see the files with background checks on all the people working there to make sure that robust investigation of potential risks has indeed happened.

It isn't like if their child talks about a sarcastic or unpopular teacher in school, they land up demanding that teacher account for their actions or be taken out. How many of you, after the Delhi Gang rape insisted that all personnel on the campus of your own child's school be investigated? But offending people by thinking they are suspicious is so bad, no? Yet they provide an Aadhaar that tracks people as potential criminals by default.

How many did this after any instance of a child being found raped or murdered in school? This is just the capital of the country - a place where "people like us" send their kids. There are even more horror stories from schools in smaller towns, hostels for tribals. Government schools are a free for all - may the biggest bully call the shots. What will it take for parents to see that schools are NOT SAFE FOR CHILDREN? Or at the very least to demand a security audit? What will it take to see that schools are a business that targets parent satisfaction and not kids? What will it take for people to stand up for their own damn child instead of imagining them in every crime against children and getting all emotional, but doing nothing to protect?

I am a staunch proponent of homeschooling, but I accept that it may not be an option for many people who have jobs - for example or where there are ill people in the home needing considerable attention, leaving the adults too weary to participate in a child's learning. Or where the home enviornment may have abusive people around. Sure, schools can be a necessity for many. But I think it is high time their overinflated importance be evaluated too. If a school can't get your children fluent in basic knowledge and blames children for low scores, it is basically time and money invested with zero guarantee. And today, there is no guarantee that all the education in the world will result in a job anyway. Technology is developing so fast that assistive devices may take communication to the illiterate without ever requiring them to read or write in a few decades. What exactly is it that the school is being glorified for? Why is it that the need of sending a child to school at all can't be questioned? Why is it so hard that schools face robust scrutiny? You'd have a problem if your office peon or collegaue or even the CEO squeezed your boobs as he passed by, right? What will it take to ensure that extensive efforts are made to ensure that your child isn't going to be subjected to it? How the hell is it that parents simply meekly take a school's word for it - if at all they ask.

It won't be easy. Schools are already on tight budgets. Popular culture blurs age and sexuality encouraging perverts and normalizing behavior that should create alarm. Investigations and stepping up security is time consuming, expensive. Being screened would probably be taken as an insult by many teachers who feel entitled to lack of scrutiny. But it isn't impossible either. Without security, the most logical place for a pedophile to be in is a school. Where the ratio of vulnerable targets to potentially alert protective adults is exceptionally high - say unlike a park, stressed teachers getting through their duties on autopilot are not likely to notice things unless trained for it. How many schools train their staff in basic security concepts so that they may notice and investigate potential risks?

This is my question to you, parents. When are you going to shed this blind obedience to authority figures and demand that they are worthy of the trust you entrust them with? Does your child matter or not?

Because right now, the old Ryan International School murder is all but forgotten, and the new one is on its way out of our awareness. We forget, over and over the news that shows the threat to children. Untill next time.

What will it take for you to ensure to the best of YOUR capacity that your child is not on national news for the wrong reasons?

Golden Chariot flies again without NOC

Tuesday, March 28, 2017
By Raju Vernekar

In a classic case of apathy, the inspection carried out by the State Energy Department, into a fire that broke out at the Golden Chariot Hotel, located at Hub Mall, Goregaon East, in December last year, has remained on paper and the hotel has resumed normal operations despite the fire brigade revoking an NOC granted to it.

The hotel was gutted by a massive fire on December 29, 2016 and the hotel management was accused of carrying out structural changes and blocking fire exits, which allegedly led to delay in putting off the fire.

When contacted Pravin Agarwal, one of the Directors of the Golden Chariot Retreats and Infra Private Limited told The Afternoon D & C that, “It was a small fire and now everything is in order and the hotel has been functioning normally.” When asked about the cause of the fire, he replied, “You ask this to the fire brigade.”

In turn, Deputy Chief Fire Officer Vijaykumar Panigrahi maintained that the NOC granted to the hotel has already been revoked and all the facts have been placed before the BMC’s P south ward office. Now it is the responsibility of the respective ward office to verify whether the hotel is open or closed down.
In its report dated 6th March 2017, the fire brigade had stated, "It seems there are discrepancies in the area, encroachment, unauthorised addition/alteration, construction of loft, etc. in the said premise... In view of the above, the NOC/requirement letter issued under no. FBL/S/106/1076 dated 01/11/2006 by this department stands cancelled."
Whereas Assistant Municipal Commissioner Santosh Dhond claimed that the BMC has taken necessary action and served notice to the hotel owner, but he has moved the court in the matter.
But basically, the whole inquiry is shrouded in mystery. As per the information collected by activist Sulaiman Bhimani through RTI query, the Assistant Electrical Inspector of the State Energy Department, in his report dated 18 January 2017 has stated that the fire broke due to the combustion of oil accumulated in the chimney when it came in contact with a spark emanated from the tandoor oven. The same report also stated that there was no trace of a short circuit. However the manager of the hotel tried to manipulate that the fire emanated from the switchboard, Bhimani said.
Commenting on the alleged “hide and seek” between the fire brigade and the BMC, Bhimani said that when a fire breaks out, everyone shouts and announcement of “strict implementation of fire safety norms” is made but after a few days everything is back to square one and authorities themselves leave loopholes to enable the guilty to circumvent the action.
In another development, the designated officer, P Southward has sent notices under section 488 of the BMC Act, on 25 March 2017, to different occupants of the Hub Mall, including “Palasia Saloon” saying that the inspection of their premises will be carried out anytime on 29 March 2017. This is nothing else but an attempt to pressurise them so that they do not reveal anything to outsiders about the laxities within the mall, Bhimani said.
POSTED IN PUBLIC INTEREST BY
Sulaiman Bhimani
9323642081
sulaimanbhimani11@gmail.com
link to the other article published before

11

Mumbai, 27th January, 2017: Justice Chinnasamy Swaminathan Karnan of Culcutta High Court and formerly of Madras High Court, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to take action against "high corruption at the judiciary". In his letter dated 23rdJanuary, 2017, Justice CS Karnan furnished the prime minister with "an initial list of corrupt judges", and in addition, three other officers of Madras High Court, who he implied had detailed knowledge and proof of the corrupt acts of the 20 judges. Justice Karnan asked for all these persons to be "interrogated by the officers of the Central Agencies" – probably referring to Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
Justice CS Karnan's recent writings and actions have confronted India with huge questions and challenges, namely:
a) Is Justice CS Karnan a judge a nutcase – a man with impaired mental functioning? If so, what constitutional safeguards does the nation have to remove him, to prevent him from damaging the reputation and function of the higher judiciary?
b) Alternatively, is Justice CS Karnan a whistleblower revealing rampant corruption in Madras High Court and Supreme Court? If so, what constitutional mechanisms does India have to conduct proper investigation of his allegations?
Read Justice CS Karnan's letter to the Prime Minister below:
The judges named in this letter are mostly Justice Karnan's former colleagues, namely:
  1. Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Chief Justice of Madras High Court and earlier, Punjab and Haryana High Court
  2. Justice S Manikumar of Madras High Court
  3. Justice V Ramasubramanian of Madras High Court
  4. Justice (Retd) Chitra Venkataraman of Madras High Court
  5. Justice (Retd) RS Ramanathan of Madras High Court\
  6. Justice RK Agrawal of Supreme Court
  7. Justice TS Thakur, who recently retired as Chief Justice of India
  8. Justice MY Eqbal (Retd), former Chief Justice of Madras High Court and Supreme Court judge
  9. Justice (Retd) FM Ibrahim Kalifulla of Supreme Court
  10. Justice (Retd) Satish Agnihotri of Madras High Court
  11. Justice (Retd) Elipe Dharma Rao of Madras High Court
  12. Justice (Retd) KN Basha of Madras High Court
  13. Justice (Retd) G M Akbar Ali of Madras High Court
  14. Justice (Retd) Aruna Jagadeesan of Madras High Court
  15. Justice V Dhanapalan of Madras High Court, with whom CS Karnan had a public quarrel.
  16. Justice MM Sundresh of Madras High Court
  17. Justice N Kirubakaran of Madras High Court
  18. Justice S Nagamuthu of Madras High Court
  19. Justice T Raja of Madras High Court
  20. Justice M Sathyanarayan of Madras High Court
So, in the light of this letter, let us consider whether Karnan is a raving nutcase that the judiciary is unable to rid itself of. Is justice Karnan a living proof of the fact that there is almost no way of getting rid of a bad or incompetent judge?
Or is Karnan a whistleblower exposing the corruption of Indian judiciary, and deserving of the respect and gratitude of all Indian citizens? And therefore, is he a living proof of the fact that even a High Court judge cannot bring corrupt judges to justice?
The jury is still out on that one.
ISSUED IN PUBLIC INTEREST BY
Krishnaraj Rao
9821588114
krish.kkphoto@gmail.com
Posted in Public Interest by
Sulaiman Bhimani 
9323642081
sulaimanbhimani11@gmail.com

1

The layman often does not know how many tiers of privilege are invisible too him. I have often wondered how I can purchase something that costs less than a dollar and it gets stuck in customs to never be seen again, or emerge after a few months, but couriers deliver international parcels within days. And it was evident that this is a mystery to many and even more have solved it with conspiracy theories, because the only plausible explanation to occur to me till today, living in a bribe riddled country was a twitter user's suggestion made a few years ago, that courier companies have their contacts in customs who clear parcels swiftly for them, while regular parcels wait.

It was today that I realized it is not so. Take the case of Mumbai The Courier cell at the airport clears parcels with Airway bills right there at the airport. Then comes the parcels with tracking numbers starting from "E" - EMS type ones at the Post parcel sorting office behind Sahara Hotel. The poor ones starting with C go all the way to Ballard Estate to clear customs. I guess this is an additional precaution in case customs fails to delay non-courier parcels enough. I imagine they have less storage space at the airport to keep lags, and that is the only reason they come through faster, because surely the government would not prefer some methods of shipments over others, including the government run postal system. Yeah, that was sarcasm. And yes, the speed of international couriers in delivering your parcel is not because they are "better" at it, but because customs seems to hurry them through while taking their own sweet time for others.

Regardless, this is not the purpose of the post. I got a call from DHL today, asking me to upload KYC documents for a shipment coming for me. This is a small quantity of oat bran and apple fiber - both of which, for mysterious reasons are not manufactured in India - at least for retail. I wanted to see what the products are. The total cost of both packets could not be over Rs. 500. KYC for a 500 rupee parcel, failing which it would be returned to sender? Unbelievable. I lost my temper with DHL - they want my official, personal identification and proof of address for their staff to be able to download and print whenever they "need" - PERMANENTLY? WHY? How are my documents their business at all and further, what is their justification to keep them in a usable format with them once the delivery is done?

This led to a search.

The gist of the problem is that our Customs department in all its wisdom issued a circular requiring KYC documents for every parcel going in or out of the country - regardless of the value of the parcel and whether it is eligible for customs duty. This is, presumably to prevent import/export fraud or money laundering, etc. Apparently customs hasn't realized that the letters that are so happily exempt can easily carry diamonds.

Now, as per Customs, these documents can be collected at the time of pick up or delivery. But obviously this is a headache for courier companies, that have found their own workaround. They simply ask customers to upload their documents to the courier's website, from where the courier will use them automatically in the future - at least reducing future headaches. This is a streamlining of operations, that makes sense - from the perspective of a courier. A courier is not responsible for national or individual security or rights of citizens. And our country, that claims to want to go digital has no concept of digital security at all beyond the "money" sites as I call them - tax, aadhaar.

As a result, we have a whole horde of foreign companies with databases of valid identification and proofs of addresses complete with email addresses and phone number (required at time of upoading documents) - from which they can also get date of birth. These documents are obviously good enough quality to be able to be printed and used by third parties for KYC. These documents are accessible - at the very least - to call center employees who call you up to discuss them and employees who will print them out from the database, attach them to parcels, take the parcels for customs clearance and perhaps further down the assembly line all the way to your door, including local delivery agents.

Now, what sort of security problems could be possible because of this?

At the point of the database

Call center employees, people taking print outs or such all the way to your door are unlikely to be highly skilled employees. They are necessary in large numbers. It is unclear what sort of screening procedures happen for them to be entrusted with such data.

Corrupt employees could easily sell identification documents of real people for money. Something like this has the potential to sit nicely on a DVD to go to the highest bidder.

Spy agencies could use such data for various purposes against Indian interest, including the basis of new fake identities. All it takes is one driving licence or passport to rent a place and become a local in a new place and get pretty much any document and begin a brand new life and toss the photocopy of the passport away on getting their new driving licence or whatever. Would be a pretty handy "Shopping mall of documents" to check out which customer of the courier company had photo identification that best suited the agent they were planting.

Given that the records would also come with email addresses and phone numbers with a good chance of being linked to the documents, the possibilities increase. Consider for example a person walking into a mobile provider's showroom asking for "his" SIM to be blocked and providing alternative documents to get a new SIM. If the address proof is a bank statement, for banks where customer ID is the login, should be a simple matter to reset password with a new SIM. Not to mention a list of people using international couriers is an automatic list of people extremely likely to be using electronic payments, to be from the rich and upper classes.

And you don't even have to have dishonest couriers for this. Databases get hacked and data dumps are sold on the black market. One created from such a source would have a very high percentage of lucrative targets with a good possibility of being vulnerable to targeted attacks or identity theft.

There are very very few places where you could get such complete information on such a targettable group - not even government databases could probably give you email addresses, phone numbers and printable copies of ID documents in one place.

How could this be avoided?

First and foremost, six years is plenty of time to collect data. Customs and revenue folks should provide statistics on how many cases of fraud were caught due to KYC data. At the very least, they must demonstrate that the expense and risk to individuals and country of conducting this circus is justified by results of the use of KYC data.

There is no reason to require documents for items not qualifying for duty to begin with - which would be the bulk of parcels. Where duty was paid, customs can easily require the receiver to upload documents to a government website for customs clearances instead of third parties based outside India. Couriers could even expedite the process by intimating customers not registered in customs to do it with their AWB number on booking of shipment to prevent delays in customs. Even then, it is unclear what KYC documents achieve - would be more useful to get a PAN number, which can, quickly be checked against bank accounts, tax status, import licences and more as well as payments made, while providing least "one stop" exploitable information to someone misusing it.  With something as specific as a PAN number, customs could even have automatic flags for more than "X" number of shipments in "Y" period - without even having to resort to any kind of snooping or invasions of privacy. Otherwise, simply having a few different shipping addresses (home, office, warehouse, shop - all would have address proof/rental agreement) could result in a workaround for illegal imports anyway.

 

This absurd requirement for customs puts both individuals as well as country at risk. This cannot be blamed on couriers - they are merely getting customers to "voluntarily" (or else you won't get your parcel) give up their documents to prevent inconvenience to themselves. While they are using the documents legally and have a good excuse for their coercive behavior, it is the responsibility of the government to secure the nation as well as its citizens from potential crime.

At the very least couriers must obtain explicit consent from regular customers to store their data permanently or be required to destroy such records once the need for documents is over - at least minimizing risk.

Third party databases containing complete identifiable information of Indian citizens from documents to contact information and date of birth - are a recipe for security disaster sooner or later.

What can we do to protect ourselves till then?

Do your international shipping through Postal departments as opposed to couriers. Or via E-Commerce websites that have shipping arrangements that don't require you to upload sensitive documents to third parties. You will still have to pay customs duty where applicable, but your documents would be less vulnerable to misuse.