GOLAKGANJ, Jan 24 � Smugglers are making the most of the difficult terrain along the Indo-Bangladesh border in Dhubri district. Rivers and waterways along the border, mostly the channels of the Brahmaputra river, have become regular smuggling routes. The difficult terrain, coupled with shifting sandbanks and strong currents, is no deterrent to the smugglers operating across the Indo-Bangladesh international border, said an officer of the Border Security Force (BSF).
As talks continue between India and Bangladesh to resolve the ongoing water crisis, the issues of the sharp increase of population and illegal trade have been neglected. A wide range of commodities including cattle, wood, rice, salt, sugar, kerosene, dal, silk saris, fish, cooking oil, bamboo, teak, betel nuts, bicycles, narcotics, arms, electronics goods including musical keyboards, cameras, walkie-talkies, video players and recorders make their way across the riverine stretch.
Cattle are often robbed from Indian farmers to feed the beef packaging plants in Bangladesh that export processed meat to the Gulf countries. Professional cattle lifters take livestock across the border. Attempts by BSF personnel to check the menace are often thwarted. On the other hand, genuine cattle traders are harassed even when they provide valid documents including sales deeds.
BSF sources said border villagers need to keep better vigil on their cattle and report immediately any incident of cattle lifting to the nearest BSF or police outpost. Despite the often tense relation between the local population and the BSF, the latter claims to take up with the Bangladesh Border Guards any incident of cattle lifting that is registered with it.
The recent big haul of smuggled goods from near the Indo-Bangladsh border by the BSF�s Baywater Wing in Dhubri district has forced the administration to mull long-term methods to curb illegal transactions. The riverine areas are a haven for smugglers, especially during the monsoon when sailing across the waters becomes easy.
The sheer size of the Brahmaputra river makes it difficult to patrol, said BSF officers. When the river is in a spate, the BoPs are shifted from huts to boats. Despite barbed wire fences along the Indo-Bangladesh border in lower Assam, parts of it remain open, including riverine areas where the BSF cannot afford a 24-hour vigil. Increased instances of smuggling and insurgency along the Indo-Bangladesh border now influence even the politics of the State and all political parties are silent on the issue for fear of losing their vote banks.
People from both sides cross the border throughout the year, ignoring the border pillars. Parts of the fence along the Indo-Bangladesh border in Assam are also broken. The part of the border near Meghalaya and Assam, close to Border Pillar No. 1001 near North Bengal, is open too. �This is a regular route of smugglers,� said Mohan Adhikary, a local villager of Ramraikutty area in Dhubri district.
The village of Tillai in Bangladesh�s Kurigram district is just a few metres away from the weekly market of Jhaukutti in North Bengal. Women and children often cross through their paddy fields to buy vegetables, sugar, salt, rice, dal and kerosene from here. About 20 to 25 per cent people residing near the border are encouraging illegal business directly or indirectly.
Unfenced riverine areas and bridges on the international border roads are conveniently used by illegal traders, local people said. Chars, forests and places without motorable border roads are largely left unguarded. Sources said receding waters after the monsoons leave a number of chars where local people build makeshift shelters and grow seasonal crops. The settlements are used by middlemen to promote smuggling.
Smugglers use the local people�s knowledge of the terrain and movement patterns of the BSF to evade arrest. At this time of the year, there are about 25 to 30 chars harbouring local people who cultivate crops during the day and smuggle contraband at night. Smuggled goods are often stashed away in the homes of local residents. The BSF and the police agree that problems along the Indo-Bangladesh border are not unknown to the Government. �To be frank, even the party in power is not too serious about curbing smuggling,� said Shahar Ali, a student.
The risk of foreign intelligence agencies using Assam and the North-east to destabilise India will remain, and the situation may become worse than Kashmir if immediate steps are not taken to curb clandestine transactions along the Indo-Bangladesh border.