New Delhi: The India-Bangladesh border along West Bengal, notorious for cattle smuggling and the smuggling of fake Indian currency, is witnessing a rising trend of gold smuggling from Bangladesh into India—gold, which is making its way into the illegal gold market in this country.
Over the last three years, the Border Security Force (BSF) has seized more than 133 kg of gold, which was being smuggled into India from the various border points across West Bengal. Sources within the BSF told this correspondent that the quantity of gold that is being smuggled into India from Bangladesh is much more than the quantity that the BSF has been able to seize in the last three years.
A senior BSF officer posted in West Bengal told The Sunday Guardian on the condition of anonymity that the seizure done by the BSF is just the tip of the iceberg and that much more illegal gold enters India through Bangladesh that is not caught. “The seizure that you see for the last three years is not the real picture of the gold smuggling that happens from the India-Bangladesh border, the quantity is much more. The BSF is able to apprehend only the consignments they have information about, while many more remain undetected,” the senior BSF officer told this correspondent.
The BSF officer further said that the reason for the increase in the gold smuggling being noticed is due to the increase in the customs duty on gold by the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Finance increased the duty on gold from 7.5% to 12.5% with an additional 2.5% cess for agricultural infrastructure on gold import and this has led to an increase in illegal activities in this sector. A milestone development earlier last month, which, in fact, left many within the security establishment stunned, was the seizure of more than 40 kg of gold in a single consignment that was being smuggled into India through the India-Bangladesh border in West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district.
A BSF spokesperson of the South Bengal Frontier told The Sunday Guardian that the consignment of 41.49 kg of gold valued at over Rs 21 crore was being smuggled into India from the Ghunarmath outpost of the BSF in the Bongaon area of West Bengal. The BSF officials posted along this section of the outpost had been tipped off about the arrival of this consignment through the porous India-Bangladesh border and were on a tight vigil.
At around 6:30 pm on 22 July, an ambush party of the BSF, patrolling along the Ichhamati river that separates India from Bangladesh in the Bongaon area of West Bengal, saw around 7-8 men trying to cross into India by using a wooden boat. These men had some large bags with them and when they were challenged by the ambush party of the BSF, the men jumped into the river and fled to Bangladesh, leaving behind the bags which contained 321 gold biscuits, 1 gold bar and 1 gold coin. The seized gold was handed over to the DRI (Directorate of Revenue Intelligence) who are currently investigating the matter. However, according to local intelligence sources from West Bengal, the consignment that was being smuggled from Bangladesh into India allegedly belonged to three individuals who are notorious for gold smuggling in the state—Shankar Addhya, Goutam alias Boss and Azhar Sheikh.
DRI sources told this correspondent that the agency is investigating all these angles and that they have arrested a few people in connection with the case and are currently questioning them to ascertain the names of all the “kingpins” involved in gold smuggling.
GOLD SMUGGLING MODUS OPERANDI
Gold smuggling is a very lucrative business that fetches a huge amount of money for people involved in this syndicate and Bangladesh, over the years, has turned out to be one of the easiest routes to smuggle gold into India. The reason for smugglers choosing the Bangladesh route to smuggle gold into India is due to its long porous borders along the state of West Bengal, where many parts of the India-Bangladesh border still remain unfenced and some are riverine borders, where patrolling as well as tight vigil still remain a challenge for the security forces.
According to informed sources within the BSF and the DRI, the gold that is smuggled into India from Bangladesh makes a long journey; many of the sources of origin of the smuggled gold have been traced back to the Middle East, Singapore and many to South Africa.
According to DRI sources, the route that the smuggled gold follows is that the gold travels from the originating country into Myanmar, which then crosses the riverine border that Myanmar shares with Bangladesh to enter into that country. After the receipt of the package by the local couriers in Bangladesh, the consignment is then moved to India through the India-Bangladesh border in Bengal.
“This route is best suited for smugglers as the chances of getting caught are minimal; as the air and rail routes have become very strict over the years, smugglers have started to use sea and river routes to transfer their consignments. Moreover, the Bengal borders are very loosely guarded as a large swathe is riverine and smugglers take advantage of this. In Bengal, there is another interesting thing that many locals are easily employable in such business as there is not much employment in the state,” a DRI officer based out of Kolkata told this correspondent.
The BSF, as well as the local sources in Bengal, told this correspondent that many youths along the border areas in West Bengal act as couriers for gold smugglers as they venture out to the border outposts at early dawn or in the dead of the night to receive their parcels. BSF officials also pointed out that the local couriers are in touch with their counterparts in Bangladesh who tip each other off about the exact time and location where the consignment is to be dropped. BSF sources also said that many of the gold consignments come in pretty small packages that can easily be thrown over the fence where men from both sides are stationed to catch hold of the consignment.