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OpinionsBengal facing problems due to illegal cattle smuggling to Bangladesh

Bengal facing problems due to illegal cattle smuggling to Bangladesh


Centre and State Govt still at odds to deal with the issue jointly

By Ashis Biswas


For Government of (GOI), enforcing its ban on illegal cattle smuggling to Bangladesh has become harder than before. The absence of even minimal official co-ordination between two major concerned state Governments of Assam and West Bengal, has emerged as a major handicap for the police and law enforcing agencies.


At times authorities in Guwahati and Kolkata seem to pursuing contrary guidelines ,enabling the powerful smugglers' lobby to take full advantage.


In both states, the pattern of livestock smuggling has undergone a change in recent weeks. While Assam has adopted more stringent measures to crack down on illegal cattle trafficking to Bangladesh, there has occurred no similar effort in neighbouring West Bengal. While the Trinamool Congress (TMC) rules in Bengal, Assam is ruled by its political bête noire Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)


The contrasting approaches in these states towards illegal cattle smuggling  is apparent from recent developments in parts of North Bengal and Assam .


Authorities in Assam have banned the movement of cattle/livestock sent to their territory from other states from reaching vulnerable districts bordering Bangladesh. The Assam-Bangladesh border is mostly fenced and effectively guarded. There is no ban on normal to- and- fro movement between other districts in Assam and the rest of India. Moreover, the Assam State Assembly has just passed a legislation in support of the state government's executive decision announced earlier.


While this has naturally queered the pitch for smuggling rackets in Assam, Meghalaya and other places in the Northeast region, it has also had an unanticipated impact on the law and order situation in parts of North and central Bengal — more specifically in Malda and Coochbehar districts.


The last few days have seen an eruption of armed mob violence targeting the Border Security Force (BSF) personnel in these areas, by local groups of anti-socials.  This has happened as the smugglers, finding the going difficult in Assam, have been forced to shift to Bengal as their main operating area.


A few days ago, BSF personnel were forced to open fire against a group of cattle smugglers who were trying to cross the border illegally and escape to Bangladesh. One Yusuf Ahmad (22), a Bangladeshi who had crossed over into India illegally, was hurt, while the others fled, leaving their cattle behind, on the night of Jan 6. The incident occurred near the Itaghati border outpost, under Habibpurthana in Malda district.


The following night, an armed mob tried to overpower a party of BSF and local policemen, as the latter tried to stop them from transporting cattle illegally into Bangladesh, close to the international border in the Mekhliganj area of Coochbehar district. Altogether 12 policemen were injured when stones were thrown at them, followed by an attack by lathi wielding hooligans. BSF men later arrested six people including four women. The police seized 34 heads of cattle.


The BSF have had to take action against such groups, which enjoy a measure of local support from some political elements and a few state policemen. In recent months the BSF in West Bengal has faced a vicious hate campaign launched by the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC). State Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee herself has led blistering attack against what she has described the ‘anti people activities and terror tactics of the BSF directed against citizens living in the border areas'.


Her pitch has been taken up by North Bengal TMC leaders like Udayan Guha, formerly of the Forward Bloc. In his recent diatribes against the BSF, he accused the organisation of not only harassing local innocent people, but charged it with  specifically targeting Muslims and committing atrocities against women ! He did not however provide specific details , even as BSF authorities firmly rejected his charges  at the highest level.


Observers have seen in such TMC tactics a palpable objective of protecting/appeasing its Muslim vote bank in these two districts, against any threats from the law enforcing agencies, whether real or perceived.


The GOI decision to extend the operational jurisdiction of the BSF from the earlier 15 kilometres wide  belt running along the international border to 50 kilometres in several states including Bengal, as expected ,has only added fresh fuel to the raging controversy between Delhi and Kolkata on the sensitive issue if Centre-state relations within a federal political structure. Bengal and , both non BJP-ruled states, have protested most vociferously against the centre's decision.


While Punjab has challenged the move legally, the matter has been more politicised in West Bengal.


Some Bengal-based observers have attempted to analyse the reasons behind the acute concern of the ruling TMC leaders to protect their Muslim support base.. It is common knowledge that as with other large scale organised , illegal cattle smuggling has long been a highly lucrative source of income for many influential, politically protected operators in India whose influence extends from the highest reaches of Delhi to remote border areas.


The chain of command is both extensive as well as inclusive, involving the poorer border area villagers at the grassroot level to high officials and political leaders at the top. The estimated level of ‘black' unreported income generated annually through illegal cow smuggling to Bangladesh and assorted activities had been variously calculated at between Rs 25,000-Rs 30,000 crore annually. Also, while a section of poorer Muslims are known to be part of this elaborate racket in the border areas, there is no dearth of non Muslim Hindu leaders actively involved in the corruption at the top decision making levels.


‘In illegal trade, there seems to be a symbiotic co-existence among hardened Hindu and Muslim criminals/operators who may be found in Bengal, Uttar Pradesh , Delhi or Rajasthan. Police investigators tasked to enforce the ban on illegal cattle smuggling to Bangladesh have found this time and again during the probes,' says a state police official.


While a few BSF/state police officials have been punished for their alleged involvement in the cattle smuggling to Bangladesh — three have been suspended and six transferred — the exact number of blacksheep thus identified has not been officially revealed.


BSF sources are on the whole satisfied with the progress made in reducing the extent of cattle smuggling in the East in recent years. The number of seizures of cattle from the border areas effected in recent years shows a sharp downward trend : from 120.000 cattle heads in 2016 to 64,000 in 2017, to 47,000 in 2019 , and 20000 by 2021 (figures approx) .


Confirmation that India's bid to stop cattle smuggling had worked was available from other recent developments. For some time now, the regular auctioning of cattle in Bangladesh close to the Indian borders at Jessore, Khulna and Rajshahi had stopped as the price of beef shot up. The export of beef/items, leather and hides, production of leather-based goods and the porcelain industries were hard hit in Bangladesh. Dhaka was forced to invest in and launch special livestock raising programmes on its own in recent years to tide over the crisis that had developed. (IPA Service)


The Northlines is an independent source on the Web for news, facts and figures relating to Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh and its neighbourhood.


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