The largest land port on the India-Bangladesh border was shut down indefinitely on Thursday after Bangladeshi gangsters, taking advantage of the turmoil on their soil and the preoccupation of the police with it, launched serial attacks on truck drivers on the Indian side of the border at Petrapole.
Over the past fortnight, they injured four drivers, ransacking goods carriers, stealing cargo and extorting money.
On an average, about 1,000 vehicles cross the Petrapole border every day and the gangsters are targeting parking zones of the Central Warehousing Corporation that houses goods worth at least Rs. 300 crore.
The operations have been shut down by the association of truck owners and drivers in Bangladesh. They are also preventing trucks from the Indian side from rolling into Bangladesh.
More than 70 died in clashes in Bangladesh as the country slipped into turmoil in the fourth week of February over death sentences to Jamaat-eIslami leaders for their crimes during the 1971 Liberation Movement.
“This is a strange, helpless situation. The Bangladesh truck owners’ associations have not been allowing vehicles to pass through Petrapole from this morning. They have called an indefinite strike demanding security. We’re receiving frantic calls from representatives of industrial houses and traders from both sides,” said Kartik Chakraborty, secretary of the Clearing and Forwarding Agents’ Association at Petrapole, who held a meeting with the police, BSF and Customs and other authorities.
Earlier, the border check-post was shut because of successive bandh calls by the Jamaat and BNP in Bangladesh.
“This’ll hit imports and exports hard. They’re already low after the violence in Bangladesh. We demand proper security,” Pankaj Roy, member of the Bharat-Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce, said.
The gangs, which originate from different parts of Jessore including Benapol town are led by names like Sultan, Alamgir, Hafizul and Suman.
Taking advantage of the volatile situation in the neighbouring country, with its security forces busy tackling clashes. “There’s heightened criminal activity in the border areas. Gangsters from Bangladesh, who had been relatively quiet so far, are now taking advantage of the situation there and are trying to make forays into India. So much so that they’re now targeting border goods transit points. We’re on a high alert,” a BSF official from Bongaon said.
For the past few weeks, the gangs have been raiding the parking zone at night and extorting money from drivers and helpers at gunpoint. The locals were able to catch of one of the gang members who hailed from Jessore on March 12 and handed him over to the police.
However, early on March 14 morning, the gangs retaliated and injured two Bangladeshi drivers and damaged jute cargo, besides ransacking trucks.