Maj Gen Sehgal told Mail Today the cattle smuggling on Indo-Bangladesh border was worth $8 to $10 billion but after strict instructions by Narendra Modi government, the smuggling has come down [and is worth only an estimated $5 billion a year]. – Kamaljit Kaur Sandhu
Amid claims that an enhanced vigil on the India-Bangladesh border has brought down cattle smuggling by 99 per cent in just one year, the illegal trade continues to flourish, Mail Today investigations have found.
Bangladeshi cattle markets, known as khattals, are brimming with cows and oxen from India that travel thousands of kilometers, including water routes, without being detected.
Traders at these markets admit that demand for Indian beef is high and the scaling down of smuggling activity has only served to push the prices up.
Mohammed Rehan, who works at Gabtole, one of the biggest cattle market of Bangladesh, a 13km drive from capital Dhaka told Mail Today:
“There is a slump in the volume after the (Narendra) Modi government came to power, but cows and oxen still reach here from villages of Haryana, Rajasthan and even Maharashtra”.
“On an average, around 3,000 cattle make it to Gabtole daily from India and Nepal. The prices have now gone up due to higher risk and bribe rates.”
Depending on its health and species, a cow can fetch Rs 3,000 to Rs 45,000 takas in Bangladesh. Bigger cow species from Haryana and Rajasthan are sold at a premium.
During festival time, such as Eid, the prices could move into one to two lakh takas.
Traders at Gabtole told Mail Today that the cattle are first transported in trucks via UP, Bihar and Jharkhand to enter into border destinations of West Bengal and Assam.
From the two border-states, the smugglers use water routes from villages to cross over.
The commonly-used water routes are in rivers Kalindi, Ichhamati, Raimangal and Hariabhanga of Bangladesh.
The cows are first kept in remote villages and bound to one another by a long iron-chain.
At night these are herded in water by rakhals, young local aides who are good swimmers and know their way even in the dark.
For smuggling a pair of cows, a rakhal gets the equivalent of Rs 3,000.
However, there are always new routes are discovered by the smugglers.
“The business of cattle (smuggling) has been going on since Bangladesh was East Pakistan.
“Cows come from India, Nepal and Bhutan legally or illegally,” said Nadeem Khan, a trader at Gabtole, before he is advised by others against drawing “undue attention”.
Similar stories were recounted by traders at the Paikgachi cattle market, located between Satkhir and Jessore.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the traders said rise in demand for beef has made smuggling even more lucrative.
“Only the smugglers are making more money,” said one of the traders.
Defence expert Maj Gen (Rtd) P. K. Sehgal told Mail Today the cattle smuggling on Indo-Bangladesh border was worth $8 to $10 billion but after strict instructions by Narendra Modi government, the smuggling has come down.
“The cattle are pushed in, unfortunately many times in connivance of the force guarding the border.”
This is in sharp contrast of the claims made by the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) that smuggling on the border has come down by 99% as compared to the previous year.
The Border Security Force (BSF), over the last five months, has plugged some of the vulnerable patches of the 4,096-km border by not only increasing troop strength but also new vehicles and a fresh fleet of attack motorboats to patrol riverine areas.
The seizure of cattle by BSF in South Bengal frontier also known as the cattle corridor of India, reflects the trend. In 2014, it was 1,21,887, in 2015 1,51,402, and till August-end this year it has been 1,18,711.
“GI pipes have been welded to a metal fence as a defence against cattle smugglers,” said a top officer in BSF.
However, smugglers either manage to either cut wires or use makeshift wooden cranes to lift the cattle.
On Sunday, BSF guards killed a 35-year-old cattle smuggler, Bahrul Islam, for allegedly trying to cross over near northern Kurhigram area’s Roumari Upazila.
There is another set of cattle which fetch better prices now.
Police and guards often catch cattle that have either moved into Bangladesh or were abandoned by the smugglers for the fear of being caught.
“These cattle go to the auction block,” said Subash Chowdhry, a local journalist with a Bangladeshi daily at border district of Satkhira said.
“Chittigong and Dhaka traders used to get them at a marginal price earlier. But the increased demand now ensures that they fetch good prices for government departments.” – Mail Online India, 25 September 2016
» Kamaljit Kaur Sandhu is a senior special correspondent with India Today at New Delhi.
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