For Government of India (GOI), enforcing its ban on illegal cattle smuggling to Bangladesh has become
harder than before. The absence of even minimal official co-ordination between two major concerned
state Governments of Assam and West Bengal, has emerged as a major handicap for the police and law
enforcing agencies.
At times authorities in Guwahati and Kolkata seem to pursuing contrary guidelines ,enabling the
powerful smugglers’ lobby to take full advantage.
In both states, the pattern of livestock smuggling has undergone a change in recent weeks. While Assam
has adopted more stringent measures to crack down on illegal cattle trafficking to Bangladesh, there has
occurred no similar effort in neighbouring West Bengal. While the Trinamool Congress (TMC) rules in
Bengal, Assam is ruled by its political bête noire Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)
The contrasting approaches in these states towards illegal cattle smuggling is apparent from recent
developments in parts of North Bengal and Assam .
Authorities in Assam have banned the movement of cattle/livestock sent to their territory from other
states from reaching vulnerable districts bordering Bangladesh. The Assam-Bangladesh border is mostly
fenced and effectively guarded. There is no ban on normal to- and- fro movement between other districts
in Assam and the rest of India. Moreover, the Assam State Assembly has just passed a legislation in
support of the state government’s executive decision announced earlier.
While this has naturally queered the pitch for smuggling rackets in Assam, Meghalaya and other places
in the Northeast region, it has also had an unanticipated impact on the law and order situation in parts of
North and central Bengal — more specifically in Malda and Coochbehar districts.

The last few days have seen an eruption of armed mob violence targeting the Border Security Force
(BSF) personnel in these areas, by local groups of anti-socials. This has happened as the smugglers,
finding the going difficult in Assam, have been forced to shift to Bengal as their main operating area.
A few days ago, BSF personnel were forced to open fire against a group of cattle smugglers who were
trying to cross the border illegally and escape to Bangladesh. One Yusuf Ahmad (22), a Bangladeshi
who had crossed over into India illegally, was hurt, while the others fled, leaving their cattle behind, on
the night of Jan 6. The incident occurred near the Itaghati border outpost, under Habibpurthana in Malda
The following night, an armed mob tried to overpower a party of BSF and local policemen, as the latter
tried to stop them from transporting cattle illegally into Bangladesh, close to the international border in
the Mekhliganj area of Coochbehar district. Altogether 12 policemen were injured when stones were
thrown at them, followed by an attack by lathi wielding hooligans. BSF men later arrested six people
including four women. The police seized 34 heads of cattle.

The BSF have had to take action against such groups, which enjoy a measure of local support from some
political elements and a few state policemen. In recent months the BSF in West Bengal has faced a
vicious hate campaign launched by the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC). State Chief Minister Mamata
Banerjee herself has led blistering attack against what she has described the ‘anti people activities and
terror tactics of the BSF directed against citizens living in the border areas’.
Her pitch has been taken up by North Bengal TMC leaders like Udayan Guha, formerly of the Forward
Bloc. In his recent diatribes against the BSF, he accused the organisation of not only harassing local
innocent people, but charged it with specifically targeting Muslims and committing atrocities against
women ! He did not however provide specific details , even as BSF authorities firmly rejected his
charges at the highest level.

Observers have seen in such TMC tactics a palpable objective of protecting/appeasing its Muslim vote
bank in these two districts, against any threats from the law enforcing agencies, whether real or
The GOI decision to extend the operational jurisdiction of the BSF from the earlier 15 kilometres wide
belt running along the international border to 50 kilometres in several states including Bengal, as
expected ,has only added fresh fuel to the raging controversy between Delhi and Kolkata on the
sensitive issue if Centre-state relations within a federal political structure. Bengal and Punjab, both non
BJP-ruled states, have protested most vociferously against the centre’s decision.
While Punjab has challenged the move legally, the matter has been more politicised in West Bengal.
Some Bengal-based observers have attempted to analyse the reasons behind the acute concern of the
ruling TMC leaders to protect their Muslim support base.. It is common knowledge that as with other
large scale organised crime, illegal cattle smuggling has long been a highly lucrative source of income
for many influential, politically protected operators in India whose influence extends from the highest
reaches of Delhi to remote border areas.
The chain of command is both extensive as well as inclusive, involving the poorer border area villagers
at the grassroot level to high officials and political leaders at the top. The estimated level of ‘black’
unreported income generated annually through illegal cow smuggling to Bangladesh and assorted
activities had been variously calculated at between Rs 25,000-Rs 30,000 crore annually. Also, while a
section of poorer Muslims are known to be part of this elaborate racket in the border areas, there is no
dearth of non Muslim Hindu leaders actively involved in the corruption at the top decision making
‘In illegal trade, there seems to be a symbiotic co-existence among hardened Hindu and Muslim
criminals/operators who may be found in Bengal, Uttar Pradesh Haryana, Delhi or Rajasthan. Police
investigators tasked to enforce the ban on illegal cattle smuggling to Bangladesh have found this time
and again during the probes,’ says a state police official.
While a few BSF/state police officials have been punished for their alleged involvement in the cattle
smuggling to Bangladesh — three have been suspended and six transferred — the exact number of
blacksheep thus identified has not been officially revealed.
BSF sources are on the whole satisfied with the progress made in reducing the extent of cattle smuggling
in the East in recent years. The number of seizures of cattle from the border areas effected in recent
years shows a sharp downward trend : from 120.000 cattle heads in 2016 to 64,000 in 2017, to 47,000 in
2019 , and 20000 by 2021 (figures approx) .

Confirmation that India’s bid to stop cattle smuggling had worked was available from other recent
developments. For some time now, the regular auctioning of cattle in Bangladesh close to the Indian
borders at Jessore, Khulna and Rajshahi had stopped as the price of beef shot up. The export of
beef/items, leather and hides, production of leather-based goods and the porcelain industries were hard
hit in Bangladesh. Dhaka was forced to invest in and launch special livestock raising programmes on its
own in recent years to tide over the crisis that had developed.
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