A CBI crackdown on cross-border cow smuggling in West Bengal has thrown the spotlight not only on a nexus among BSF officials, customs officials and racketeers, but also on political leaders, besides Bengal Police personnel who are being questioned for information they may be able to provide. The CBI recently carried out raids on the homes of Vinay Kumar Mishra, one of the Trinamool Youth Congress’s general secretaries. The CBI has summoned him and, after he skipped the summons, has issued a lookout notice against him.
The accused & the suspects
The CBI filed the FIR on September 21 against six persons who are named, and others. Among those named are Satish Kumar, who was the Commandant of BSF’s 36 Battalion in Malda from December 19, 2015 to April 22, 2017, besides alleged smugglers Md Enamul Haque , Anarul Sheikh, Md Gulam Mustafa, Anarul Sheikh, and Md Golam Mustafa. They have been charged under Section 120B of IPC (criminal conspiracy) and Sections 7, 11 & 12 of the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988.
The FIR alleges that during Satish Kumar’s posting, the BSF seized more than 20,000 heads of cattle before they could be transported across the border, but vehicles carrying these animals were not seized and persons involved were not apprehended.
So far, Satish Kumar and the alleged kingpin Enamul Haque have been arrested. At least six Bengal Police officials have been summoned and two have been questioned for any light they may be able to throw on the racket, CBI sources said, while a few businessmen said to be linked with influential people are under the CBI scanner.
How the racket works
Every year, tens of thousands of cattle are estimated to be smuggled from West Bengal to Bangladesh through the 2,216-km border in the state.
Each cattle head is priced at Rs 80,000-90,000 (breeds from UP and Haryana) or Rs 40,000-50,000 (smaller breeds from Bengal) in Bangladesh. Prices shoot up during Eid , when there is high demand for packaged meat exported by Bangladesh. At such times, cattle fetch twice the prices at which they are procured in India.
According to CBI sources, after the cattle were seized, these were shown as smaller than their actual size in the BSF seizure memo. This reduced their value at auctions that the BSF and Customs conduct for seized cattle. CBI officials alleged that only selected traders, with an alleged nexus with BSF and Customs officials, would be allowed to buy the cattle at such low prices at the auctions. Once bought, the cattle would be smuggled into Bangladesh by the same traders.
The CBI has alleged that Enamul Haque would pay, per head of cattle, Rs 2,000 to BSF officials and Rs 500 to Customs officials. Besides, it has alleged, Customs officials would also take bribes of 10% of the auction price from successful bidders.
The timing & the politics
The crackdown has come ahead of Assembly polls this year. In its preliminary enquiry, the CBI has spoken of some BSF and Customs officers being bribed by smugglers. Now, the CBI is probing a larger conspiracy possibly involving political leaders.
The opposition BJP has moved on from the Saradha and Narada cases to the cow smuggling crackdown, as well as illegal coal mining. After the recent raids, the BJP has accused the ruling Trinamool Congress of involvement in cattle smuggling, which the Trinamool has denied.
Before the search on the Trinamool leader’s houses, the CBI had procured court orders. After Vinay Mishra, the Trinamool leader, skipped the CBI’s summons, the agency has summoned his brother Vikas.
In the run-up to the 2013 rural polls, and the 2014 Lok Sabha and 2016 Assembly elections, CBI and Enforcement Directorate investigations into several ponzi schemes had resulted in the arrest of a number of Trinamool Congress leaders and the interrogation of several others. Ahead of the Assembly elections, the state will be watching if any ruling party leaders are called for interrogation in the cattle smuggling case.