West Bengal’s Malda district has, for long, been a prominent hub for counterfeit currency trade. Even the demonetisation announced by the Centre on 8 November 2016 to crack down on black money and fake currency notes does not seem to have had much effect in the district. The failure of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) government in West Bengal to maintain law and order is being attributed as one of the main reasons for the thriving trade in fake currency in this district bordering Bangladesh.

This month, the Delhi Police seized fake currency with a face value of Rs 7.5 lakh. In a similar incident last month, West Bengal’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) seized counterfeit currency of face value Rs 7 lakh. Interestingly, in both the seizures, Malda was the common connection, investigating agencies have revealed. These two seizures are examples of a gigantic counterfeit currency trade being run from Malda district.

According to an estimate by West Bengal CID, this year alone, different security agencies have seized counterfeit currencies of face value Rs 1.75 crore from across the country and every seizure had the familiar Malda link.

As per  local residents, Malda’s proximity to the Bangladesh border, the abundance of criminals in the area and the failure of the TMC government to maintain law and order are helping the counterfeit trade and other illegal activities thrive in Malda.

On the condition of anonymity, a senior CID official told The Sunday Guardian: “Every month, on an average, we receive one call for ‘ground level input’ from the police or security agencies from outside West Bengal. We have found in our investigation that the Malda route is a common link in almost 80% of the total cases of counterfeit currency trade in the country.”

Even the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) estimated in 2017 that about 70%-80% of total counterfeit notes seized in the country enter through the three India-Bangladesh border districts of Malda, Murshidabad and Nadia, all in West Bengal.

A source close to the Bengal CID told The Sunday Guardian: “The National Investigation Agency (NIA) and the Border Security Force (BSF) have found that printing bases for fake notes are located in Bangladesh. Until now, most fake notes used to come from Pakistan. The NIA has also pointed out that the fake notes found in Malda or routed through this region have features used in Indian currency.”

Local leaders and activists say that the indifferent approach towards Malda by the Left, which ruled West Bengal for over three decades, helped turn this region into a hub of counterfeit currency, opium trade and illegal arms.

Swadhin Kumar Sarkar, a Bharatiya Janata Party  MLA from Malda district, told The Sunday Guardian: “The Left which ruled West Bengal for over three decades totally ignored our district. Not only the Left, even the Mamata Benerjee-led TMC government, which succeeded the Left, has not paid any attention to this region, which has destroyed the future of the people living in Malda.”

Malda, which is a Muslim majority district, has been a Congress bastion and currently both its Lok Sabha constituencies, Malda South and Malda North, are represented by the Congress.

“In order to gain politically (against the Congress), the TMC has given a free pass to the fundamentalists in Malda and this has communalised the whole Malda belt. The TMC government hardly takes any action in cases involving criminals belonging to a particular community and this has made Malda a fertile ground for criminal activities. Fundamentalism is being used to shield crimes in the region,” Sarkar said.

The Kaliachak area of Malda district, located near the international border, witnessed massive riots in 2016. This area is considered to provide a safe haven and passage to the mafia and anti-social elements. As per local sources, Kaliachak has become a hub of anti-social activities and crimes like keeping illegal arms, cultivation of poppy, dealing in fake notes and illegal drug trafficking are rapidly growing in the region.

According to Sarkar, local goons who had criminal cases against them attacked the police stations during the 2016 communal riots and destroyed all the records and evidence kept there. The family of Asadulla Biswas, a former henchman of the CPM, who later switched to TMC, has control over almost 60% of the illegal trade in the area, Sarkar alleged. Even the NIA has indicated the same, but the local police has not done anything substantive to ensure the rule of law in the region.

A highly-placed source in Bengal CID alleged that “Asadulla Biswas has almost 70 cases of murder, fake currency trade, drugs and arms smuggling against him, and the CID is aware of his rising crime graph.”

Mohsin Hussain, a local activist who works as a “community educator” in the Sujapur block, told The Sunday Guardian: “The kingpins are rarely arrested, only the couriers, who are mostly poor youths, are put behind bars. There is a need for political will to counter the flourishing opium cultivation and trade in fake notes. Till the time the kingpins are free, Malda will remain a top hub for criminal activities.”

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