The formal exchange of enclaves between India and Bangladesh does not just have a political but economic significance as well.
In what was the enclave complex of Chhitmahal till Friday, smuggling of marijuana, cattle and cough syrups ran much of the parallel economy. Now, things could see a significant change.
While a porous border and the common language of Bengali make smuggling in these parts rampant, the alleged nexus between smugglers and a section of border guards on both sides make it very difficult for the administration to check the illegal businesses.
Besides smuggling of cattle to Bangladesh which is a major money-spinner, illegal movement of rice, sugar, urea-based fertiliser and a motley variety of cough syrup brands made in India, which have a high demand in Bangladesh for their sedative properties, is also frequent.
An activist working among the enclave dwellers, however, said that more than cattle smuggling, the enclaves are used for growing marijuana, which is then processed and smuggled to Kolkata, Dhaka and other places. For most of the contraband, women and children are used as couriers.
Smuggling rackets take advantage of this. Because of a shortage of female personnel among the border guards, the male officials are least likely to frisk the couriers. Thus, large packs of Indian cough syrup brands, particularly Phensedyl, get smuggled easily. The couriers also carry marijuana packets and sometimes whole shrubs wrapped in clothes.
But the exchange of enclaves could see a change in the routine affairs.
According to a senior police officer in Cooch Behar in North Bengal, earlier the law could not reach the pockets where marijuana is cultivated because they were neither here nor there. But since the areas have now been formally absorbed into India, the police would be able to apprehend the marijuana cultivators.
Mushtak Sheikh (name changed), a resident of what was Mashaldanga enclave till Friday, admitted to growing marijuana since 2011. “The plant takes around eight months to grow and gives good returns. For every shrub we get between Rs 700-800 from dealers, who buy in bulk. They then process the weed and distribute through channels to Kolkata, Dhaka and other places,” he said. Chaitanya Das, who grows marijuana in his kitchen garden, said hundreds of people grow marijuana in the enclave region.