In a controversial suggestion, outgoing BSF chief U K Bansal has said that the menace of cattle smuggling on the India-Bangladesh border defies policing and might be best controlled by making the trade legal, The Time of India reports.
Cattle running mafias abound on the border, making smuggling bovines for meat a highly lucrative but violence-prone illegal business.
Bansal seemed to endorse the view that the sheer scale of operations and the economic interests involved make policing a limited option, the Indian newspaper added.
Asked if the illegal cattle trade should be legalised given the economic realities in Bangladesh, Bansal said, “We all have to think about it seriously. It is not a problem that can be solved by policing.” Bansal was speaking at BSF’s annual press conference on Thursday.
Several Bangladeshis lose their lives smuggling cattle for a remuneration as low as Rs 500. While trying to stop them, BSF men put their lives at risk while reports of corruption have also surfaced.
The massive demand for meat feeding a Rs 2,000 crore industry in Bangladesh has made it difficult for forces to stop the smuggling. The proposal to make cattle trade legal, despite its apparent pragmatism, is sure to attract fire from groups advocating cow protection.
Legalising the trade is a hot potato that the government is unlikely to consider, but it could throw open a discussion on a taboo subject that might yield results later.
The issue has been contentious, leading to a stand-off between India and Bangladesh at various bilateral meets where charges have been traded. Bangladesh has rarely accepted any illegality, including the large inflow of illegal immigrants into India.
The government has made efforts to bring down casualties of Bangladeshi nationals by introducing non-lethal weapons. But the move has hurt BSF as emboldened smugglers have started attacking force personnel.
In the past three years, while casualties of Bangladeshis on the border came down by over 60%, attacks on personnel of Border Security Force went up by over 100%.
According to government figures, in 2010, as many 32 suspected intruders were shot dead by BSF on the Indo-Bangladesh border while 64 men from the force were injured due to attacks from smugglers. Due to continued high fatalities of its nationals, Bangladesh had been pushing for softer approach towards border guarding from India.
Thus, in 2010, India had proposed and implemented use of non-lethal weapons such as rubber bullets and pump action guns by the BSF against suspected smugglers.
Bangladeshi fatalities came down to merely 11. However, injuries to BSF men jumped to 150. In 2012, the force has recorded six deaths of Bangladeshis and 100 injuries to its men on the border.
“The problem is that the sheer economics of the trade makes it unstoppable. Close to seven lakh cattle are smuggled every year, and this is only the data collected through arrest of smugglers. The industry is worth thousands of crores of rupees in Bangladesh,” said a BSF officer who has served on the Indo-Bangla border.
One of the reasons India has never been able to come to an agreement with Bangladesh on resolving the problem is the latter does not consider it smuggling, calling it cattle trade. Bangladesh has even unofficially offered to help make arrangements so that cattle can be bought at the border without risking the lives of people on either side.