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Crossing the Wagah border - After 60 years TATA trucks in Pakistan
Saturday, 03 November 2007
1 October 2007 was remarkable day for India and Pakistan. For the first time in 60 years Indian & Pakistani trucks where allowed to cross the border to deliver their cargo. Before cargo was carried by porters to the borderline and handed over to the porter crew on the other side. In a business sense quite labour intensive and time consuming.
For motorized travellers entering / leaving India this change comes has a side-effect. No longer you’re the lonely driver exposed to the rigid Indian custom procedures – you’re now among Pakistani / Indian drivers and their trucks. As we experienced on 6 October 2007 this lead to a remarkable border crossing into Pakistan.

Indian custom procedures for vehicular import / export at the Wagah border are known to be notorious. The vehicle document “Carnet de Passage” (CdP) is checked precisely – any discrepancy can lead to hours of delay, refusal to enter India or the worst confiscation of your vehicle. There are many real life examples – several impounded vehicles (Turkish, Irish, British) are parked for a long time in the Indian border area.

Before 1 October 2007 a crew of 3-6 custom officers could easily be assigned to your vehicular import / export case. If you have crossed many borders with the same Carnet de Passage – Indian customs could detect the slightest discrepancy in your Carnet de Passage with the many custom man-hours to their disposal.

Most famous without doubt is the “engine number” check. Usually it’s stamped straight into the engine block or as a numbered plate riveted somewhere on the block. In quite a few cases the number is hard to find, hard to read, non-existent or simply dead wrong when compared to what is written on the CdP.  The result is evident – your CdP doesn’t match your vehicle or only partly. There have been many drama’s in the past – however we’ve never heard of anyone who got seriously bogged down on this issue.

Second is the “180 days rule”. It’s actually quite simple - After 180 days in India with a vehicle – the same vehicle should stay outside India for at least 180 continuous days. The “continuous” part is not always well understood. Without a continuous 180 days outside India, (for instance Nepal or Bangladesh) the duration of each following stay in India is added to the previous one.

When you leave India at the Wagah border the 180 days check is done with great precision. Crossing the 180 days makes you liable for taxation of your vehicle. The tax is so high it makes it economically very unsound to pay. Thus confiscation of the vehicle follows. But there are escape routes – but you’ll have to come prepared with an extensive paper-trail. Accepted taxation escapes (confirmed by Indian customs) are breakdowns or sickness of the driver / owner.

There are many other CdP weak spots – like low vehicle value, vehicle ownership differences, spare-tire mismatch, expired CdP or simply CdP fields left blanc by the issuing organisation. With the right amount of eyes and labour applied to your import / export case – a CdP mistake is fairly easy spotted.

After 1 October 2007 there are simply less man-hours to be spend on your case. The Pakistani trucks arriving and the Indian trucks leaving now take up a large amount of the available man-hours at the Indian customs. All trucks must go on the inspection ramp – causing quite a queue. The ramp is not drive through so it’s a lot of manoeuvring of trucks at this spot. The time spend on each truck is now limited by workload. Now a few minutes compared to the previously lush multiple hour check of interior, exterior and CdP vehicle details of the unsuspecting overland traveller.

On 6 October 2007 we experienced the unthinkable. Our CdP was stamped without one single check. Duhhhhh! However the 180 days rule was checked swiftly using Nepal and Indian visa’s. They calculated a total stay of 128 days –“you are free to go” the customs officer said briefly. Incredible…. We left India somewhat bewildered – what has happened to Indian customs?

On the Pakistani another surprise awaited us. A brand new customs and immigration building – a very lavish set-up, clean, a modern interior and equipment but the same ole crew inside. It felt like an airport! We got our paperwork sorted without any check and left even more bewildered. What happened to the “any shampoo?” and “whiskey in the fridge?” questions? We don’t know, but it might be because of the different setup.

Looking back we don’t know if we got lucky or custom policies on the Indian side have indeed changed for foreigners. There is now considerable truck traffic on the border – meaning a lot of work for Indian customs. If it’s a policy change it’ll make the whole customs procedure a lot more relaxed. If we got lucky, well thank you!

In any case we think it’ll not be the same as before. Cross-border commercial traffic is here to stay and this is only the beginning. As we read in Indian newspapers, commercial traffic is expected to increase 5 fold at the Wagah border. If that’s the future, Indian customs will probably be just the same as on other land borders on the silk route.
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