IN CATTLE SMUGGLING, INNOVATION IS THE KEY
A calf sells for ₹ 40,000 during Eid-ul-Zuha while adult cattle sell for between ₹ 80,000 and ₹ 1.15 lakh in Bangladesh. In India, a calf sells for up to ₹ 3,000 while fully-grown cattle sell for ₹ 40,000
In the run-up to the Eid-ulZuha, demand for cattle is high in Bangladesh. And for cattle smugglers across the porous border areas in India, the solemn occasion marks a veritable festival bonanza. The “cattle corridor” stretching from the 24 Parganas mudflats in West Bengal to Tripura’s forested hills is now doing brisk business ferrying animals to the eastern neighbour ahead of Eid.
And innovation is at the vanguard of their operations after India increased its vigil along the border. To counter the security forces, cattle smugglers are using the peculiarities of the terrain to transport the animals to Bangladesh. With the entire Lower Assam reeling under the monsoon fury, smugglers transported calf tied to banana plants along the numerous shallow rivers that f low into Bangladesh from Mankachar and the Barak Valley. The methods are different along Bengal’s swampy mudflats and the Meghalayan hills, but the practice is as rampant as it is in Assam and northern Bengal.
But why is cattle-running a thriving business along the meandering India-Bangladesh border? The answer lies in the economics.
IT’S ALL IN THE MONEY
A cal f sel ls for ₹ 4 0,0 0 0 during the Eid-ul-Zuha in Bangladesh, while the price on the Indian side is around ₹ 2,000 to ₹ 3,000. Fullygrown cattle sell for ₹ 80,000 to ₹ 1.15 lakh during the Eid in Bangladesh, while Indian prices of bovine are about ₹ 40,000. Cross-border trade of cattle is estimated to be worth ₹ 5,000 crore a year.
For cattle-runners, therefore, the reward seems to overwhelmingly outweigh the risks. Even the local breed of cows is in high demand in Bangladesh, according to people who are aware of the trade. Cattle from Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh make their way to Assam, West Bengal and Meghalaya, say security agencies. From there, consignments are herded out to the ultimate destination across the border. According to BSF’s UK Nayal, Deputy Inspector General, the Meghalaya Frontier has informed its Intelligence branch about the sudden increase in cattle smuggling ahead of Eid in Bangladesh. “The price of beef is more than double in Bangladesh compared to India. With the recent slump in the smuggling and resultant demandsupply gap, the beef price has skyrocketed in Bangladesh. The troops of Border Security Force are increasingly facing physical assaults by smugglers,” BSF added.
Smugglers use multiple vehicles to reach the border, and cattle are unloaded several kilometres away from the guarded fencing. Then, smugglers use the forest cover or unguarded portions of rivers crossing over to Bangladesh. One such route in Assam is GoalparaJaleswar: From there, cattle are first taken to Dhubri and then on to Bangladesh.
Smugglers use the terrain, children and former militants to make a killing. follows one of their trails
POLICING THE BORDER A TALL ORDER
India and Bangladesh share a 4 ,0 9 6 -k m-long border, of which 262 km falls in Assam – in the Mankachar region, and along the Barak Valley. In West Bengal, cattle corridors are spread along Cooch Behar and Jalpaiguri in northern Bengal, Malda, Murshidabad, and Nadia in Gangetic Bengal, and South-24-Parganas, which is home to the Sunderbans mangrove forests, two-thirds of which lie in Bangladesh. In the hilly states of Tripura and Meghalaya, the cattle make their way into Bangladesh from South Tripura and West Tripura districts. Similarly, in Meghalaya, South West Garo Hills and East Khasi Hills are transit points for this trade. “The illegal trade of cattle is getting more organised, and we have found cases in which former militants have been found to be engaged in this trade,” sources in security agencies deployed in the Northeast told ET.
ELABORATE SMUGGLING SYSTEM
Security officials say that there is a dedicated system for cattle smuggling. There are ‘linemen’, whose task is to keep tabs on the movement of BSF troopers. Then there are ‘transporters’ who ensure the cattle go across the border, and there are ‘stoners’ who rain stones on the BSF party in the event of likely interventions.
In Assam, smugglers use the riverine routes when border outposts are flooded – often three or four times a year – before the monsoons and during the rains. Even children are employed in this trade by cattle smugglers.
At times, border fences are cut and the animal is dumped inside the Bangladesh territory through the gap. A senior BSF officer told ET: “Villagers in the Indian side keep cows, so it is at times difficult to identify between the cow meant for smuggling and the cows of the villagers.” Mankacha r on t he Ass a mMeghalaya-Bangladesh is a trijunction and hub of the cattle trade. Transactions here are mostly through hawala. The Garobadha cattle market in Meghalaya is about 30km from Tura in West Garo Hills and 22km from the international border with Bangladesh, which is close to Mankachar town of Assam. Every week, about 500 cows or buffaloes are sold in Garobada, and the number increases to more than 3,000 before Eid. Union Home minister Rajnath Singh has earlier said that the government is committed to sealing the 223.7-km Indo-Bangladesh border in Assam.
Shankar Das, the RSS leader in Assam,toldET:“Thegovernmentmust ensureanendtothesmugglingofcattle into Bangladesh.