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Saved from smugglers, 2,000 cattle heads die of negligence in 7 months at Bangladesh border

Over the past 11 months, the BSF has rescued 36,672 cattle heads as they were being smuggled across the border to Bangladesh.

Representational image | Pixabay
Representational image | Pixabay

Kolkata: Over 2,000 cattle heads saved from smugglers have died at the Bangladesh border over the past seven months. Causes of death include starvation, disease and lack of care and attention.

The figure has been obtained from the official records of the Border Security Force (BSF), which guards the border with Bangladesh and has been tasked with curbing cattle smuggling across the porous boundary.

ThePrint had reported in August that the BSF was struggling to take care of the cattle in its care because of a funds crunch. The BSF had written to the headquarters this May for financial assistance of Rs 1.74 crore a month, but are yet to get any help.

In the three months since the August report was published, 1,463 cattle heads have died, most of them cows.

The negligence of cattle, especially cows, appears to be at odds with the stated aims of the Narendra Modi government and the BJP, which has made cattle welfare a campaign plank.

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36,672 cattle heads rescued

Over the last 11 months, the BSF has rescued 36,672 cattle heads as they were being smuggled across the border.

Until 2018, cattle heads seized from smugglers were auctioned by customs authorities as seizures at the border fell under the Customs Act. However, that year, the customs department cited a 2017 Supreme Court order, which “directed that the sale of cattle would be made in consonance with the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Rules 2017”, to give up the responsibility.

Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, neither the customs department nor the BSF is authorised to carry out the auction. All the seized cattle, the customs department said in a November 2018 letter to all zonal heads in the eastern and northeastern region, should thus be handed over to West Bengal Police.

The BSF has since been handling cattle upkeep in partnership with police, local villagers and NGO Dhyan Foundation. However, hundreds of cattle heads still find themselves stranded in dismal conditions at border outposts.

Between August and November, for example, Dhyan Foundation took in around 10,000 bovine animals, mostly in batches.

The state police took around 11,000 for auctioning while another 10,000 were given to local gaushalas run by villagers. However, there are apprehensions that the cattle handed over to villages are often handed back to smugglers in exchange for money, a process called “recycling” in local parlance.

At present, the BSF has around 700 cows stranded at several border outposts.

The BSF has been using its own funds to feed the seized cattle. But upkeep becomes difficult during monsoon and winter, when the animals are more vulnerable to sickness. That’s why the BSF aims to ensure that no more than 700-1,000 cattle heads are under its care at any one point of time.

“As of now, there has been no steady mechanism. An NGO takes cattle from us. We try to give some to the local gaushalas. The remaining ones are looked after by us, from our own resources,” said BSF inspector general (South Bengal Frontier) Y.B. Khurania.

“We do not have any infrastructure or system in place to provide proper food and care to the cows. We do not even have cow sheds. So, hundreds of cows died during monsoon and some are still dying,” he added.

More smugglers being caught

Meanwhile, the BSF’s tightened vigil — as well as outreach to local villagers — is helping the force foil more and more smuggling cases.

Between January and October this year, 1,023 cattle-smuggling FIRs were lodged, a near three-fold rise over last year, when the number stood at 494.

In most cases, the smugglers were apprehended by the BSF on the spot or rounded up by police later. The FIRs, a police officer told ThePrint this August, have an additional advantage in that they empower police to step in and take over some of the cattle for auction.

Clashes with smugglers, who generally carry firearms, have gone up as well. The BSF primarily uses non-lethal weapons in these clashes on account of the friendly relationship between New Delhi and Dhaka, and is only allowed to fire lethal arms in self-defence, when the smugglers are heavily armed.

So far this year, there have been 821 incidents of firing by the pump guns BSF personnel carry along the Indo-Bangla border, according to records maintained by the force. There were only 251 such incidents in 2018.

There has also been an increase in the number of instances where the BSF personnel fired lethal weapons — from 15 in 2018 to 118 in 2019.

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