Cyclone fuels Indo-Bangla border smuggling in Sundarbans

The border at Chanralkhali village here on the bank of Kalindi river which separates Bangladesh and India has been a witness to the smuggling of truckloads of cattle from Gujarat, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar for some time now.
Ever since Cyclone Aila devastated the deltas and hit the Border Security Force (BSF) by damaging patrolling boats and breaching embankments and roads, there has been a manifold increase in smuggling aided by hapless villagers.

"A recent spate in smuggling by villagers has put BSF jawans on high alert," says a jawan on duty at the border village, 100 km from Kolkata.
The cyclone has destroyed all means of livelihood for 1.6 lakh people of Hingalganj by damaging houses and rendering fields saline. Sights of devastation are evident everywhere.

BSF jawans say smugglers have taken advantage of the situation by engaging hapless villagers into smuggling cattle, bidi, garments and drugs at night.

"Normally, the smugglers pay us Rs 200 for transporting cattle from one village to another. With more people offering to do so smugglers have cut the rates and are now paying half the amount," says Ramesh Mondal, a resident of Chanralkhali village.
Most smuggling of cattle takes place at night usually in large boats deep inside the Sundarbans mangrove jungle which borders Bangladesh.

"Attempts to smuggle goods by villagers have gone up considerably since the cyclone destroyed BSF patrolling boats and vigilance on foot was hampered along damaged roads and river embankments," Vikash Chandra, Deputy Inspector General of BSF South Bengal frontier which protects the border in Sundarbans told PTI.

The cyclone also killed cattle in the region and the remaining were sold to the smugglers by villagers to feed themselves. Risking their lives, villagers have been guiding cattle through water-filled fields and pushing them into the ebbing Kalindi river to send them to Bangladesh. The smugglers got a free hand until the boats of BSF and roads were repaired.

Jawans say the growing smuggling has put a lot of pressure on them from their top brass. Chandra said BSF takes firm action if anybody was found to involved in the crime.

"Three jawans were dismissed from service this year on similar charges. We have a system of cross-checking where if hundreds of cattle hoof marks are noticed on the bank of the river, the jawan on duty is asked to explain and if he fails to do so it results in suspension," says Chandra.

The BSF have so far seized 4169 cattle, 1451 pieces of clothing, 3550 packets of fertilizers and 2543 bottles of a medicine, phensidyl which people in Bangladesh consume to get drunk.

Revenue worth Rs 12 crore has come from cattle auctioning this year, BSF officials said. Villagers say the cattle smuggling has affected their lone source of livelihood of catching fish from the stagnant water of the fields.

"The cattle tears the fishing nets cast in the fields at night," Sushanta Roy, a villager, says. The vigilance along the embankments and village roads has been intensified after the roads and boats were repaired, BSF's Chandra says.

Maintaining vigilance on the border divided by tidal rivers in human inhabited Sundarbans is tough as it becomes difficult to navigate on swollen rivers during the monsoon.
BSF keeps an eye on the 70-km border in Sundarbans mangrove forest with two floating Border Outposts (BOP). Indo-Bangla border on the side of Hingalganj and Hasnabad blocks are porus as they are without border fencing.

A local doctor, Arunodoy Mondal says the smuggling has been damaging the future prospects of youth by providing them easy money and keeping them away from studies.
The issue of cattle trade came up in sector-level border guards meeting of the BSF and their Bangladeshi counterparts, Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) after the cyclone.
BDR never takes action against the cattle smugglers as they consider them as "cattle traders" to which BSF says that India does not sell them and trade cannot take place at midnight, a BSF officer says.

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