Toy shipment for Indian orphans sent back to HK
S. N. M. Abdi in Calcutta
Eight containers packed with toys donated by a company in Hong Kong and intended for poor and orphaned children in Calcutta have been sent back unopened because Indian authorities demanded two million rupees (HK$322,000) in Customs duty on the consignment.
The charitable Sabera Foundation said the gift consignment worth US$75,000 (HK$585,000) arrived in India aboard two ships last week. The toys were donated by US tycoon Stephen Berman's company Jakks Pacific in the SAR.
But the charity sent back the toys, now en route to Hong Kong, because it could not afford the Customs fee.
'We refused to pay the hefty Customs duty on toys because our resources are limited and things like food and medicines are definitely more important in our scheme of things than toys,' said Patrick Ghosh, Sabera's director for public relations and communications. 'We will appeal to the federal Finance Minister, Jaswant Singh, to waive the import duty for the sake of the children.'
Mr Ghosh said Los Angeles-based Mr Berman was not aware of restrictions on donations in India when he sent the toys.
Mr Ghosh said that rather than paying port fees while the Finance Ministry examined the charity's tax-exemption plea, Sabera asked Jakk Pacific's managing director in Hong Kong, Wills Hon, to arrange for the containers to be shipped back from Calcutta.
According to Mr Ghosh, the toy consignment will be reshipped to Calcutta if exemption is granted by New Delhi.
Vijay Kumar, Calcutta's Customs commissioner, said the eight 40-foot containers were not even offloaded from ships which docked last week.
'We estimated the duty as per rules according to the cargo manifest and communicated it to Sabera,' he said.
'There is no doubt that Sabera is a bona fide organisation but our hands were tied.
'We have to charge the import duty unless the Finance Ministry specifically exempts the consignment. At present, the only social welfare organisation exempted from paying duty on any material coming from abroad is [Mother Teresa's] Missionaries of Charity.'
Mr Kumar said discretionary powers of regional authorities to grant exemptions were abolished because of misuse of the provision by corrupt officials.
Sabera, a non-profit organisation, was founded in 1999 by well-known Spanish musician Nacho Cano and named after a little girl whom he found digging for food in a rubbish dump in Calcutta. Headquartered in Calcutta, Sabera now provides food, shelter and education to 137 poor children and destitute women at Kanganberia on the outskirts of the city.
Sabera's patrons include singer Ricky Martin and Hollywood actress Penelope Cruz.