The mobile phone started ringing minutes after he got into our car. The caller, it seemed, was asking about our identity. “No, no they are not police. Do not worry. They are just reporters. They have come here to cover the coming assembly elections. Don’t panic,” said CPI(M) local committee member in Baishnabnagar Gajen Ghosh.
The assurance failed to convince everyone and Sher Mohammad was among the sceptics. Even with his fragile physique, the old man stopped the car. “Who are these people? Why have they come to our village?” said Mohammed. He allowed the car to proceed only after being convinced about the identity of the strangers.
Welcome to Chaipara, a hub of fake currency note dealers. It is 7 km from the India-Bangladesh border in Malda.
“Police raids are common in our village. Even police from outside pick up villagers who are charged with circulating fake Indian currency notes (FICN) into the market,” said Ghosh, “This is an organised racket and is a booming business here.”
Recently, sleuths of the Central Zone Task Force from Andhra Pradesh arrested Arun Kumar Saha and Naba Kumar Saha, two residents of Chaipara village for allegedly circulating R6 lakh of fake Indian currency notes in denominations of 500 and 1000 in East Godavari. The police later arrested Bikash Mondal, Shaukat Ali, Barun Saha and Nikhil Mondal, all from Chaipara.
The special task force of the Kolkata Police has also arrested 78 persons for circulating fake currency and 41 are from Malda. While 26 racketeers are from Kaliachak 12 belong to Baishnabnagar. The task force seized R1 crore of fake notes with the majority seizures from Malda.
Bidi rolling is another common profession in the village, which has a population of about 1,500. Some are agricultural labourers but according to the CID, circulating fake notes is a cottage industry in Chaipara. Not surprisingly, around 80% of residents migrate to Delhi, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The majority work as contract labourers in development projects for four months.
The inter-state fake Indian currency dealers are in the know and send huge consignment of fake notes through the labourers. “Not only Chaipara but also neighbouring villages such as Mohanpur, Joyenpur and Sukhpara all have become crime dens and specialise in smuggling of cattle, cough syrups and arms,” said Ghosh. Talking candidly, the Marxist said, “Though poverty is common nobody starves.” Obviously, crime pays in this Malda village.
Chaipara does not have a single pucca road and travelling in a car is a bumpy ride. Signs of underdevelopment are everywhere and not every house has electricity and running water. Funnily not all villagers are complaining. “No, we do not have any demands from politicians. We have not got anything for years. Why should we waste our energy demanding infrastructure and then get nothing?” said Nayan Mondal, a homemaker. “Elections do not matter,” said Pratap Saha, an unemployed youth carrying a high-end mobile.
The police have their job cut out with 173 km of the porous India-Bangladesh border running besides Malda. Around 118 km is fenced with 55 km open. The river flows through another 15 km where a dam will be built and fencing erected. Again, about 25 km of open land border out of 40 km falls in Kaliachak and Baishnabnagar police station.
“The international border here is most dangerous. The absence of barbed wire means infiltration is easy though the Border Security Force is deployed. Again, many Indian villages and agricultural lands are located between the no man’s land and the barbed wire on the Indian side and there is constant movement, which is taken advantage of by fake currency dealers,” Malda SP Bhuban Chandra Mondal.
Mujaffar Hussain and Surya Jamal, residents of Duisata Bighi village who run a construction business, said, “The smugglers have a simple method. They lob a bag of fake notes over the fence for their agents.”
The duo is careful and always locks doors before retiring for the day. “Everybody is a fake currency dealer in this area and even children carry high-end cellphones and most of them are spies. While items such as rice, wheat, insecticide and cough syrup are sent to Bangladesh illegally, fake notes and arms infiltrate into India,” said Jamal.
Cattle smuggling is also profitable since the price of cows across the border is more. The animals are generally pushed through such places where fencing does not exist. Different smugglers control different segments of the border at different rates, which are auctioned. Different segments are given different codes and smugglers carry paper carrying logo of that code such as horse.
A CID officer said, “Some BSF personnel are also involved. The amount they get from colluding is sent to their families and is much higher than their salaries. The absence of an international check-post is another problem. Another problem is communication and villages are remote with bad roads, making it difficult to conduct raids.”
Neither CPI(M) nor Congress are interested in improving roads. “Whoever comes to power, good roads will never see the light of day,” said Ghosh. And that suits currency smugglers fine.