Cattle smuggling gangs have become active ahead of the rainy season.
New Delhi: The Border Security Force (BSF) in West Bengal has drawn up an elaborate plan to thwart cow smuggling activities along the Indo-Bangladesh border which are likely to pick up during the upcoming Bakri Eid festival, coupled with the monsoon season.
According to BSF officers at the South Bengal Frontier, the BSF has activated its sources across Bengal to pick up intelligence inputs of all such cattle smuggling gangs that have become active in the last one month ahead of the rainy season.
A BSF officer told The Sunday Guardian, “At the time around ‘Eid-ul-Azha’ or Qurbani Eid, cow smuggling along the Indo-Bangladesh border increases as the demand for cows in Bangladesh is very high. The smugglers use the porous riverine borders in West Bengal to smuggle cattle and with the monsoon already in place, the smugglers use the high current river water to transfer the cattle across the border. For this, the BSF is fully prepared to stop any such attempt by smugglers. We have already deployed night camera tractors, speed boats to prevent animal trafficking. Vigil across the borders has also been increased, the soldiers have been given the permission to use non-lethal weapons and effective use of force where needed. Temporary fencing has also been erected in places where there is no fencing and trenches have been dug at vulnerable spots from where smuggling is seen to be happening.”
Local sources and the BSF in Bengal have also shared with The Sunday Guardian the modus operandi of the cow smugglers who operate along the Indo-Bangla border.
The Cow Smuggling Business
The cow smuggling business across the Indo-Bangladesh border is a very lucrative business that fetches crores of rupee in a short span of time. This risky but lucrative business has witnessed the involvement of a lot of smuggling kingpins from across Bengal, having well established connections with the local ruling party leaders who earlier were involved in other smuggling activities.
According to the locals, cow smuggling involves multiple people who are part of the operation, apart from the kingpins; a lot of local youths over the years have joined the cattle smuggling syndicate for some quick bucks, sometimes risking their own lives as they are sometimes killed due to gang wars, BSF firing, snake bites or by drowning. These local youths, mostly residents from along the border, act as the eyes and ears of the kingpin. These local youths, known as “Rakhal’s” in the local language, are the frontline workers who work as couriers for the final transportation of the cattle across the border. These youths get a handsome amount of Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 for successfully transporting a single cow to Bangladesh.
Multiple households across the Indo-Bangla border in Bengal are also sometimes a part of this cartel, as each house the cattle passes through to reach the border point are paid off—even the local police stations allegedly turn a blind eye all through their route of transportation, leaving only the BSF forces to tackle this menace.
The business is lucrative because of the huge sums of money a cattle sold to Bangladesh brings into the smuggler’s pocket. For example, a large size cow or a buffalo that is available in India for Rs 50,000 is sold to Bangladesh for at least Rs 1,50,000, while a bull is sold at Rs 80,000, almost double the price it is in India. These cattle are smuggled into Bangladesh which is used as beef for consumption purposes.
The Modus Operandi of Cow Smuggling
According to BSF sources, the cattle smugglers increase their smuggling activity in the rainy season to take advantage of the swollen rivers and high current in the rivers like that of the Ichamati River that shares one of the longest riverine borders with Bangladesh.
“During the rainy season, the water level in the rivers flowing along the Indo-Bangladesh border increases and this is used by the cattle smugglers to their advantage. The traffickers put the cattle in the river up to 8 to 10 km upstream; before putting them in the river, they tie the legs of the cattle with a rope, bandaging the eyes and then they tie two pieces of banana stems on the right and left side of cattle body so that the cattle floats in the water. Due to heavy current in the river, these cattle drift in the water in a helpless state. Sometimes when these cattle approach the border line and are sighted by the BSF, the BSF jawans try to rescue them. But on many occasions, when the cattle smugglers put large numbers of cattle in the river, it is difficult to save all of them in flooded waters at night due to which many cattle are swept away to Bangladesh. When they arrive in Bangladesh, there are hundreds of Bangladeshi cattle smugglers who capture these animals through their speed boats in the river. This goes on throughout the night. Such things are sometimes done with the agreement of the Border Guard Bangladesh soldiers,” a BSF officer told this correspondent.
Another BSF officer from a border outpost in Bengal who has rescued several of these cattle being smuggled to Bangladesh, narrated how brutally these cows are treated when they are being readied for smuggling.
“These cattle are brought to the borders in Bengal in trucks from North India and during the journey, the cows are made to go hungry and thirsty for many days and en-route, many of these cows break their bones and bleed as they are made to travel in cramped space. They are also injected with drugs so that they can run violently. Sometimes the tail of the cow is also cut so that the cows do not have much energy to resist when it is being transported. The cattle are pierced with sharp-edged iron or wooden sticks to inflict pain on the cows being used to smuggle,” the BSF officer mentioned above said.
Sometimes these cattle are also tied with explosives or socket bombs in order to injure the BSF personnel who try to rescue the cattle being tried to smuggle into Bangladesh. “The Rakhals of India and Bangladesh at times try to smuggle up to 400 to 500 cattle. These Rakhals, who are in hundreds, mostly outnumber the BSF personnel who are just 2-4 at the border outpost. The smugglers attack the soldiers with sharp-edged weapons, sticks and stones and bricks. On many occasions, they also fire with indigenous bombs and pistols at the border men,” the BSF officer from the border outpost told this correspondent.
So far in 2020, 16 personnel of the South Bengal Frontier have been injured in various scuffles with trans-border criminals.
India and Bangladesh share a long 4,156 km border, of which 2,217 km is with West Bengal. Most of the border with India and Bangladesh in Bengal is a riverine border or unfenced border, making it easy for smugglers to smuggle between India and Bangladesh. Cow smuggling takes place through several borders in North 24 Parganas district’s Ghojadanga, Gede, Basirhat, Bongaon borders, while borders like Neem Teeta, Harudanga, Madanghat, Sovapur in Malda and some parts of Murshidabad are also known for cow smuggling.