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Baggage handlers turn thieves

Terror-induced restrictions have forced air passengers to check in all luggage.

india Updated: Aug 30, 2006 04:57 IST

Terror-induced restrictions have forced air passengers to check in all luggage, but it has left them exposed to theft by baggage handlers. That risk was underscored by the recent unearthing of a racket in which bags were opened and valuables pocketed by handlers at Delhi airport.

Luggage handling at Delhi has been outsourced by Indian (Airlines) to a firm called Arun Enterprises. Indian's suspicions were aroused after a tip-off, and the airline began keeping a tab on the firm's handlers. It blew the lid off the racket involving "at least eight people" last week, when four of them were caught red-handed. Sources said the handlers might have been involved in a string of thefts.

One of their victims was Colonel Pankaj Akshan and his wife Sarla, who lost jewellery worth Rs 4 lakh while flying from Delhi to Kozhikode on August 20. The couple blames Indian for their loss. "I'm not concerned about its worth. The jewellery had immense emotional value," said Sarla.

Akshan filed a complaint with the Palam police on returning to Delhi on August 22. They've been visiting the police station every day since then, hoping that the stolen items would have been recovered.

However, a spokesperson for Indian chose to pass the buck back to the passengers. "They don't disclose high-value items in order to evade valuation charges," he said. Sarla countered that the jewellery was detected during screening but airline personnel didn't ask them to declare it.