By Partho Burman

Battle of Cattle at Indo-Bangla border

New Delhi: Indo-Bangladesh border remains in headlines quite often, but for the wrong reasons. Be it human trafficking, the frequent exchange of fire between the forces from either side of the border, or even smuggling of owls. Latest to join the list is the long- ongoing smuggling of cattle from India to Bangladesh, the spread and prevalence of which has the potential of not only giving sleepless nights to the law enforcing agencies, but could soon take religious and political colours.

Cattle smuggling has been prevalent on the eastern border since long. The fact which breeds and thrives such activities is the high demand of beef in the neighbouring country, the supply for which is not met by the local market. As far as the export of cattle is concerned, it falls in the negative list of the Indian government.

Number of people involved in the trade has increased over time, thanks to the big bucks they earn in the illegal trade. The price depends upon the quality of a cattle, which is usually between Rs 500 and Rs 3000 in India, can touch up between Rs 20,000 and Rs 40,000 in Bangladesh, is a testimonial to the flourishing business.

Admitting the reality of the flourishing illegal trade, Director General of Bangladesh Rifles, Shakil Ahmed said, “Cattle smuggling is a very serious issue. In a demand -supply situation, sometimes when the supply shortage is severe, then smuggling of a particular product from a source region will always take place.”

“The Bangladesh government is seriously considering initiation of a proposal for formal import of cattle from India to Bangladesh. When you have formal and legal trading links, smuggling becomes a non-issue,” Ahmed said.

As far as the regions across which the trade is run, include North & South Bengal, Tripura-Kachar and Assam-Manipur-Meghalaya-Nagaland frontiers. Every year, the rate of smuggling multiplies many fold. Despite strict patrolling by the security agencies, the rate of apprehending such activities has gone down drastically.

Endorsing Shakil Ahmed's views, a senior BSF officer said on condition of anonymity that the suggestions made by the Bangladesh Rifles will be the best way to prevent smuggling of livestock. Every year India incurs losses of around Rs 450-crore because of cattle smuggling. If cattle export is allowed, then the country can earn large sum of revenue, as the volume of trade will increase much more then the volume smuggled, the official explained.

Elaborating on the modus opernadi of the network involved in the trade, the BSF official informed that the cattle smuggled are brought from far flung states like Haryana, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. This is because the price tag for cattle in these states is higher in comparison to those from Bihar and Bengal. The price for a cattle which costs Rs 500 in Haryana and Rajasthan goes as high as Rs 2500 once it reaches West Bengal. By the time, it reaches the bordering area, the cost of the same cattle touches Rs 5000. It increases to Rs 15000 when it crosses the Indian border. Finally it fetches Rs 40,000 in Bangladeshi markets. Even BDR charges Rs 500 per cattle claiming it as a custom duty but it is a penalty amount for which a token is also issued.

“Do not forget about the value addition,” the BSF official said. “The price shoots up thrice, when Bangladesh exports it to Dubai. It is a serious issue as far as financial angle is concerned. The Finance Minister should ponder over the issue and give green signals for cattle export.”

“But exporting of cattle is not that easy. Political parties like BJP (Bhartiya Janata Party) will make it a religious issue,” reminded the officer. Besides BJP, the CPM (Communist Party of India, Marxist) cadres will feel the pinch as many of them are involved in the business, the officer added.

According to him, if the BSF gears up its security and tightens the border as it wants, then the West Bengal Government would boil. “It is a big business out there,” he remarked. “Having seized the cattle, we hand it over to the customs department. The custom later auctions it. But quite surprisingly, the buyers are either the men of smugglers or the smugglers themselves. They re-buy the cattle at least twice over the quoted price and make 100 per cent profit by selling it.”

“Even Bangladesh government wants smuggling of cattle to be stopped. Because BSF has gunned down 125 smugglers this year already. They want export to be regularized, as it will benefit Bangladesh too,” informed the BSF Officer.

Political Reaction

As expected, Headlines India witnessed some sharp reactions from the Bhartiya Janata Party. When asked for party's reaction on the issue, party spokesperson Prakash Javdekar said, “It is a serious issue because scores of cattle are being smuggled every year. It is a tremendous loss of bovine resource and revenue. And it should not be legalised, as it goes against the ethos of the country.”

When asked about the involvement of local CPM cadre in the illegal trade in West Bengal, Javdekar said that as far as the CPM cadres are concerned, it shows CPM's true face. “They can be and should be restrained. The government should not worry about the political parties that have foreign affiliations,” Javdekar said.

Meanwhile, the Left parties defended themselves tooth and nail. “Is CPM the only party involved with it?” asked Communist Party of India national secretary D Raja. “Why not BSF then solve the problem logically? BSF should take the issue with the government instead of speaking to media,” replied Raja when told about the BSF officials' claim.

Manish Tewari, Congress spokesperson, however, placed it in different mould. He said, “If the BSF has detected any violation then they should follow the law of the land. There is a provision to deal with it, whether it is CPM or other party.”

If the BSF is to be believed, no doubt, for their own political interests neither BJP nor CPM would ever allow any government to bring cattle among the trade-able commodities. However, the Indian treasury would have increased manifold if the trade of cattle is legalised.

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