Guarding against rebels, drugs, arms, and infiltrators

  • Rahul Karmakar and Ravik Bhattacharya, Hindustan Times, Guwahati/Kolkata
  • Updated: Aug 17, 2015 12:58 IST

The Red Dragon haunts eastern India on the China frontier. But not as much as other monsters — militants, illegal migrants, smuggling of fake Indian currency notes (FICN), small arms and drugs, and trafficking in women and children — from across the borders with Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar. Smuggling of cattle and essentials to Bangladesh, and of wildlife body parts to China and southeast Asia via Myanmar, add to the monstrosity.

Eight northeastern states share an 1,880 km-long border with Bangladesh, 516 km with Bhutan, and 1,624 km with Myanmar; West Bengal shares 2,217km border with Bangladesh and 183 km with Bhutan.

A resumption of violence on the Myanmar frontier, by National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang earlier, has underscored the porousity of the border that lets in narcotics and small arms.

The paramilitary Assam Rifles (AR) guards this border. Three years ago, New Delhi decided to let BSF take charge before deciding upon the ITBP. “The hilly terrain makes ITBP a natural choice but the home ministry is averse to recruiting 45,000-50,000 men when it feels 16,000 more AR recruits can plug the gaps,” a senior BSF officer in the Northeast said.

Only a kilometre of this border — at Moreh in Manipur — is fenced unlike swathes of the 4,097 km Bangladesh border. But expanses of water totalling 1,116km and some 600 km of unfenced stretches owing to human habitations often affect vigil, letting Bangladeshis sneak in illegally.

The exchange of enclaves between India and Bangladesh after a land boundary pact in January promises a solution. But villagers on the zero line (in areas such as Sonamura in Tripura) are reluctant to relocate, mainly due to fear of losing their water source (in Bangladesh).

Cattle smuggling, worth Rs 600 million annually, engages the BSF along with terror elements that smuggle in FICN. According to the Reserve Bank of India, 80% of fake notes enter India via the Bengal-Bangladesh border.

The tendency of Assam-based rebels to sneak in and out of Bhutan keeps the Sashastra Seema Bal alert. But cannabis from Bhutan is a bigger worry for local authorities as is the smuggling of herbs and wildlife body parts, though the bulk happens on the Myanmar frontier.

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