Security agencies spar over stamping of hand baggage

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NEW DELHI: Should you get your hand baggage stamped at airports? The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) feels there’s no need but the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which is in charge of airport security, passenger frisking and hand bag screening, says it will continue stamping tags for the time being.

The BCAS issued an order on Thursday saying passengers flying out of India’s seven biggest airports — Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Kochi — will no longer need to get their handbag tags stamped. The CISF said the move couldn’t be implemented immediately.

Till late Thursday night, there was no clarity on whose writ would run as BCAS can prescribe measures but CISF has to implement them. Several advanced countries, including the US and EU nations, have done away with the requirement of stamping hand bag tags or boarding cards but India is among the few still following the practice. In December last year, the CISF and BCAS had carried out weeklong pilot projects at 12 airports where hand bag tags of domestic flyers were not stamped.

Explaining the move, BCAS chief Rajesh Kumar Chandra told TOI, “We took this decision after doing a trial run and implemented it only at places where the system had stabilised. Thursday’s order covers big airports that handle almost 80% of all air traffic in India. The basic purpose is to save time and spare a person (who currently stamps bags) to devote more time towards profiling a person and if need be, to carry out physical security checks. Stamping does not add any value to security. If there is any lapse, that is due to problem with screening machine or lack of skill of screener or improper supervision. How does stamping handbag tags do away with these issues?”

Earlier in the day, CISF chief O P Singh told TOI that “no decision has been taken so far”. While CISF is in favour of adopting this move, it feels there isn’t enough infrastructure at terminals as yet to roll it out immediately. Sources in the central paramilitary force say it initiated the pilot project for non-stamping of handbag tags. A senior officer said, “We are not against the move. We are against its immediate execution.
While the trial runs were successful, CISF felt security gadgets and smart cameras had to be put in place before stamping was done away with. The force is set to write to BCAS, civil aviation and the home ministry for the move to be delayed.

BCAS feels airlines may do away with baggage tags after its Thursday order and if that happens, CISF will be left with nothing to stamp. “CISF gave us positive feedback on the trial runs which were conducted after putting in place surveillance systems. Our order says airport operators will have to ensure proper maintenance of systems based on which stamping is being done away with,” said a BCAS official.

Both the agencies should not fight with each other and ensure security of passengers flying.VIJAY KUMAR Chopra

While BCAS’ Thursday order did away with the need for stamping for both domestic and international flyers, the next phase will involve replication of the measure at other airports, including Chennai, Guwahati, Patna, Lucknow, Jaipur, Nagpur and Thiruvananthapuram. This will be done after intensifying CCTV coverage at security check areas there and carrying out some more changes.