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HindustanTimes Fri,29 Aug 2014

India shifts focus from terror to onion smugglers

Ravik Bhattacharya , Hindustan Times  Kolkata, August 27, 2013
First Published: 11:03 IST(27/8/2013) | Last Updated: 11:06 IST(27/8/2013)

Their job is to stop terrorists and infiltrators from entering our country.

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But that is passé. They now have a new assignment: stop smuggling of onions to Bangladesh.

Ten days after the Centre raised the minimum export price to $650 per ton, reducing onion exports to a trickle, smugglers have cashed in on the situation.

Sensing that smuggling could lead to a shortage of the vegetable in the country, India has tightened security at all the seven land ports in Bengal along the Bangladesh border.

All trucks passing through the border are being thoroughly checked for onions.

Those carrying the bulb are weighed at Petrapole, the largest land port in the country. The deputy commissioner of customs, himself, is checking the trucks.

“Onion exports to Bangladesh have almost stopped. But, because of the crisis there, prices are rising. So, onion smuggling has suddenly become a moneyspinner,” Kartik Charkaborty, secretary, Clearing and Forwarding Agents’ Association at Petrapole, told HT.

“Each truck carrying onions is being checked for overloading in the presence of the DC (customs). We fear that, through overloading, onions are likely to be smuggled into Bangladesh.

Similar checking is on since last week at all the seven land ports, including Ghojadanga (North 24-Parganas), Changrabanda (Cooch Behar), Mohdipur (Malda), Hili (South Dinajpur) and others.

“Never before were trucks searched so carefully for onions. Thousands of trucks pass through the land ports and it’s impossible to check each vehicle. But now, there’s no relaxation,” a customs official said.

Vigil is also being maintained along with the porous Indo-Bangla border, where the authorities fear that onions could be smuggled at princely prices.

Because of the huge domestic demand, the Centre has fixed the export rate at $650 for a ton of onions. A month ago, the price was between $400 and $450. The Director-General of Foreign Trade issued the notification on August 14.

“Earlier, more than 1,000 tons of onions were exported to Bangladesh each day. The current figure is a mere 5% of that,” Debasish Saha of Krishna Traders, one of the biggest exporters of onions, said.


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