I occasionally order tools from abroad, particularly from the United States and Japan, two countries that make excellent and (somewhat) affordable hand tools. I have bought saws, specialist chisels and a host of jigs and accessories.
Recently, however, I had a terrible experience importing a small consignment of sharpening tools from Japan. The items ordered were two diamond coated saw files, one coarse ceramic sharpening stone and one conical sharpening stones for honing gouges and other curved blades. Not a big deal. The total value of the consignment was about `4,000 plus ` 1200 for EMS or expedited shipping.
The parcel should have arrived in 3 days. I waited and waited and no trace of the shipment. Finally filed a complaint on the IndiaPost website with the tracking number provided by the seller (toolsfromjapan.com) and discovered that for some reason it had been held up by customs.
Indiapost helpfully provided a phone number and email address to get in touch with the concerned customs officials. I sent several emails and tried calling the number which was either busy or never answered. Days passed and every day I duly sent an email and called.
One day the phone was answered and a very polite and helpful lady explained that I needed to come to the foreign post office in Delhi and meet the customs officials. When I told her that I lived in the suburbs, the lady laughed and said people came from all over north India, even distant Punjab, to have their parcels released.
One grey wintry morning I made my way to the foreign post office, which turned out to be a multi-storied affair, clean but cold and forbidding. I met the customs officer who made me verify the package, checked the items against the invoice and my identity and appeared satisfied.
He then took me downstairs to his office and shut the door, glumly announcing that the package would attract duty. I replied that it was fine with me and told him to charge whatever and release it. He said he would release it and I would have to pay the duty amount to the postman.
I went back home relieved to have sorted out the matter and again waited. Days passed nothing happened; so the next time I was in town I went and met the customs official again. He was most polite and said the matter had completely slipped his mind and that he would release the parcel that very day. I took his mobile number and departed.
|Foreign Post Office Delhi. This photograph has been taken from https://constellationcafe.wordpress.com/tag/foreign/ which has an interesting article titled "One Bad Idea: Foreign Post Office"|
Again I waited; days passed and I called the customs official every day. Every day he claimed that he had released the parcel. I then found out the number of the EMS in charge and called the lady who looked up the item in her computer and said it had not been released by customs. Again I called the customs official, who as usual said he would clear it.
Then one day, the postman arrived with the item; miraculously no customs duty was charged. However, instead of getting the package in 3 days (for which I had paid double shipping costs) I got it roughly after one and a half months! So much for expedited shipping to India.
Like many things in our country, the foreign post system appears to be broken. A clerk at the foreign post office told me that items could be tracked if they were sent by EMS or registered post. Items sent by regular post often disappeared into a huge black hole and could never be traced.
There appears to be no accountability regarding the receipt and despatch of unregistered letters, documents and parcels. The clerk told me never to order any item from abroad through regular post as it is a hit or miss affair. Many books ordered from abroad have never reached me and several vendors abroad including David Barron, a UK tools maker, told me he never ships to India. The items just do not arrive.
What is worse, even registered items can disappear down the hole since Indiapost does not intimate customers if their letters or packages are held up. When I was looking for solutions to my problem on the Internet, I found pathetic complaints from hundreds of people writing to different forums about their sad experience ordering items from abroad.
From what I could gather there is little or no accountability in the system. Even my complaints registered at the Indiapost website did not elicit any response. I had to find out the name and telephone number of the concerned person to find what was the problem.
The system stinks and if India is planning to go global it better fix its broken foreign post system, among other things.
27 January 2015
27 January 2015