India and Bangladesh share world’s fifth largest border spanning over 4000 KM and perhaps the most porous border too. Often ignored by India’s border with Pakistan and China, it’s border with Bangladesh is equally notorious. The Border Security Force(BSF) effectively India’s first line of defence, since it’s inception in 1965, The BSF guards these borders. Earlier the borders were manned by the bordering state’s armed police personnel but the 1965 war with Pakistan taught India many important lessons and thus the BSF was formed. The geographical nature of India’s border with Bangladesh makes it a near impossible task for the BSF to defend every stretch of the border particularly where there is no fencing. The biggest challenge that the BSF faces is to stop the rampant smuggling of cattle and fake currency.
The Modus Operandi of Cattle Smuggling:-
Much has been made of the ban on consumption of beef and the crackdown on slaughter houses by the Modi government. From incessant jokes to ridiculing Narendra Modi, we have seen it all. The activities on the Bangladesh border will help us understand the significance of this decision.
Over 3000 cattle are smuggled legally or illegally from India, Bhutan and Nepal to Bangladesh everyday. The value of cattle smuggling alone on the India-Bangladesh border was worth $8-10 billion until the steps taken by the Modi government brought it down drastically. India is a cattle surplus country but the demand for beef is limited however the demand for beef in Bangladesh is quite high but the supply is limited.
A cattle head which fetches Rs 500 to 3000 in India gets as much as Rs 20,000 to Rs 40,000 in Bangladesh. This can be attributed to the demand supply equation. The epicentre of smuggling are West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. Cattle are brought on the cheap from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar etc and are sold in border areas where the smuggling takes place. For instance an unproductive cow will cost about Rs. 500 in Haryana whereas the same cow will fetch as much as 5000 in West Bengal.
Getting cattle from far off states to West Bengal is not difficult as the law doesn’t ban movement of cattle from one state to other. According to Article 55 of the Transportation of Animal Rules, 1978 “an ordinary goods wagon shall carry not more than ten adult cattle or fifteen calves on broad gauge and not more than four adult cattle or six calves on narrow gauge”. However under the pretext of ‘agricultural purposes’ the smugglers manage to transport cattle in hundreds from other states to West Bengal. There are 68 smuggling corridors and 149 sensitive villages on the West Bengal border alone. Besides, the riverine borders, the char areas, are ideal transit points for smugglers—especially during the rainy season when it becomes extremely difficult to patrol these areas.
The biggest problem the BSF faces in curbing the smuggling is the 40 km riverine border consisting of the Brahmaputra river between the two countries where fencing is not possible.
’Couriers’ upon receiving cattle in West Bengal simply tie them on a banana trunk and leave them on the mercy of the flowing river. On the other side of the river lies Bangladesh where the smugglers collect the cattle and sell them for high prices at local markets. Couriers in India receive hefty amount just for bringing the cattle to the banks of river, tying them to the trunk and leave them in water. This method is often used when the patrolling intensifies. However, boats are the preferred mode of transport.
Cows and calves are inhumanly stuffed inside the boat and covered to hide them from the plain sight. ‘Rakhaals’ perform the final part of the operation i.e. crossing the border. Rakhaals are usually young boys so as to not catch the eye of the BSF. The cows are fed a mixture of mustard oil and salt, which, smugglers believe, makes them less likely to moo while crossing.
At places where the river separates the two countries, the cows are led into the water and forced to cross the river. Smugglers prefer taking at least a hundred cows together because even if the BSF were to interrupt the smuggling operation, there is no way two patrolling officers can stop a hundred charging cows or bulls. The rakhaals choose their time and moment to cross over preferably when there’s heavy fog or when it’s raining. That makes it very difficult for the BSF to see the cattle as they move across the border.
The role of West Bengal government:-
Article 48 of the constitution clearly states that-”the state shall endeavour to organise agriculture and animal husbandry on modern and scientific lines and shall, in particular, take steps for preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle”. It’s no secret that the cow occupies a holy position in Hinduism.
Besides faith, there are simple economic reasons for protecting cows. Cows have been used for tilling and other farming activities. Cows have also been, in many parts of the country, the only source of milk and dung. Keeping with the article almost all states have banned cow slaughter except two-Kerala and West Bengal.
A report on border security tabled by Parliament Standing Committee on Home Affairs in Rajya Sabha during the budget session, has pointed towards many security loopholes in the India Bangladesh Border. The report also talks about a ‘deep and wide’ cattle smuggling nexus at the India-Bangladesh border. The committee was headed by none other than PC Chidambaram.
The report stated that “Committee is particularly anguished to note that West Bengal state government has failed to implement its own order dated 01.09.2003 that outlaws existence of any cattle haats within 8 kms of border area.”
The committee recommended that the state government of West Bengal should take up steps to cancel licenses of all cattle haats that are illegally functioning within 8 kms of border area and hold the officials responsible for illegally issuing renewing licenses to these haats. The Committee in strong words stated in its report, “there is a wide and deeply entrenched nexus due to which this menace has proliferated and government needs to strike at the roots of the nexus, if it has to completely curb this problem.”
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has refused to co-operate with the Central government on almost every issue thus complicating things further. The committee which had members across party lines and headed by a senior INC leader whom Mamata Banerjee considers an ally. The committee’s report speaks volumes about how far Mamata Banerjee has taken her fight with the Centre at the expense of the state and the nation.
The BSF admits that once the cattle have reached the border areas it is very difficult to stop the smuggling. The BSF feels that to stop the smuggling, the Bengal police should take action against the haats and crample the operation as the BSF is powerless out of the border area but the police have failed to do so. The BSF recently found a 80 metre long tunnel dug in a tea garden in North Bengal which was being dug under the fence in order to overcome the problem of smuggling the cattle at places where the border was fenced. Directly or indirectly Mamata’s tacit support emboldens the smugglers who in turn bleed the nation.
Funding of terror and fake currency:-
Recent arrests and seizures have confirmed a link between cattle-smuggling and the smuggling of fake currency. Reportedly, as against a market price of Rs 4000 for a smuggled cattle head, Indian smugglers are paid Rs 10,000 in fake currency to be circulated in India. But the demonetisation drive undertaken by PM Modi almost brought the whole operation to a standstill.
According to West Bengal state police, the turnover of the illegal cattle trade is around Rs. 25,000 crore. Of it over Rs. 16,000 crore is traded in fake Indian currency. Majority of fake notes are smuggled through Nepal and Bangladesh effectively making West Bengal the hub of fake Indian currency trade. Kaliachak in Malda is one of the prominent smuggling routes according to the BSF where the forces have recently intercepted fake currency worth Rs 6.5 crore which happens to be only a fraction of the trade.
What is worrying that the Indian intelligence agencies have found a link between the cattle smugglers and terrorist groups operating out of Bangladesh. A Harkat-ul Jihad al Islami (HuJI) cadre arrested in UP in 2008 confessed to being a cattle smuggler as well as to smuggling guns and ammunition for terrorist groups.
A letter written by the Animal Welfare Department of Ministry of Environment and Forest to the Ministry of Home Affairs stated the possibility of money generated from cattle smuggling being used to fund terror organisations and their sleeper cells operating in India.
In April 2013, the National Investigating Agency (NIA), set up to investigate terrorism-related cases, filed a charge-sheet against a group of persons smuggling fake currency to fund Hizb-ul Mujahideen (HuM), a Kashmir-based terrorist outfit. One of those charge-sheeted was a Bangladeshi involved in cattle smuggling.
The role of Bangladesh:-
Bangladesh does not treat cattle smuggling from India as a crime. In 1993, it gave the cattle trade a legal status by making it a source of revenue. A cattle “smuggler” becomes a “trader” once he is in Bangladesh and pays Taka 500 (Rs. 383) as Customs charges. He only needs to state that he found the cattle “roaming near the border”.
This convenient arrangement has enabled Bangladesh to earn substantial revenue from cattle smuggling. However Bangladesh has much more to gain from the illegal cattle trade than just custom levy. The leather and bone collected from the slaughtered trade are used by the ceramic and leather industries. As a result the industries have flourished and as of 2010-11 alone it’s total exports to over 50 countries amounted to over $400 million. The direct product from the slaughtered cattle, beef, is a major export item. In 2011, the export earnings from beef were over $3.4 million.
It is, therefore, unsurprising that Bangladesh would not be keen on taking any steps to prevent cattle smuggling.
Ever since PM Modi assumed office, his actions have crippled the industry. The BSF are coming up with innovative solutions to curb the smuggling.The fencing of the border is on a overdrive and the BSF have started using high tech gadgets to guard the riverine border .
Rajnath Singh went on record and presented figures which doesn’t bode well for Mamata Banerjee and Bangladesh. From about 20-22 lakh cattle that would be smuggled across the border every year, he said, the numbers had come down to 2-2.5 lakh cattle in 2015. Since the NDA government came to power, the BSF has given its men discretionary powers to shoot at cattle smugglers, a strategy that has reportedly contributed to the drop in smuggling. However the industry is still functioning and every day that passes by with the industry functioning results in the rise of anti-India forces.
Without the support of West Bengal government it will be a herculean task for the forces to curb the operation completely. Mamata Banerjee needs to realise by aiding and abetting the smugglers she is effectively putting the whole nation at risk. No wonder Mamata was vociferous in her opposition to the demonetisation drive.