On May 31 night in Uttar Pradesh’s Sant Ravidas Nagar, a cattle-laden truck rammed into a police vehicle and drove away nonchalantly, leaving one constable dead and six others injured, strewn on the road.
Such trucks on the highways and back roads in UP, Bihar, Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and West Bengal are part of the routine night scene.
They are seldom challenged. For, they have pairvee — backers in high places — among politicians, babus and even the police forces of the areas they pass through.
Money and other means of softening the politicos and babus are obviously being used. Several smugglers have been found to have funded even election campaigns.
The modus operandi is too simple to fail: Collect cattle by any conceivable means — including robbery — and send them to Bangladesh. In Meerut and Muzaffarnagar, farmers have to stay awake at night to guard their cattle.
How does the border-crossing work? Inputs from Kolkata say consignments of smuggled cattle arrive every day from almost all over north India at villages along the Bangladesh borders.
Then they are herded across narrow roads and fields and bogs to be finally pushed across the porous border through fences torn down for the cattle to enter Bangladesh — sometimes in broad daylight.
Villagers allege that local politicians and even some border guards are involved in the racket. And in most border villages, cattle smuggling is the only source of income for the people, fetching up to R1,000 per cattle head.
The process control mechanism is so smooth and efficient that it generates more than R10,000 crore a year in UP alone. In West Bengal the figure is estimated at R5,000 crore.
And since it’s one of the highest-return and lowest-risk businesses in the country, it attracts all sorts of men — big and small.
RK Vishwakarma, IG (law and order) of UP, said the smugglers were obviously getting political protection. Politicians’ involvement in cattle smuggling in UP first came to light when former police chief of Gonda district Navneet Rana conducted a sting operation against a local political leader KC Pandey, vice-chairman of Ganna Shodh Sansthan.
“Pandey is not alone in giving protection to cattle smugglers,” said a police officer on condition of anonymity. He said whenever cattle-laden trucks were seized by the police, “the first call we receive is usually from politicians”.
Sant Ravidas Nagar district police chief VX Dixit, who confirmed that the truck that attacked the police party on May 31 belonged to cattle smugglers, said the police were on a routine drive against cattle-smuggling operations that night.
Dixit said, “We have identified the white-collar people involved in the racket and are monitoring their activities,” but admitted that the smuggling racket had accessed his own department to get prior information on police moves.
The Bihar administration has also launched a drive against cattle smuggling in the districts bordering West Bengal, such as Katihar, Kishanganj, Araria and Purnia.
The Purnia police seized about 700 cattle, including camels, and arrested more than 100 persons in the past one year.
District police chief Kim said the police could be more effective in checking cattle smuggling, provided that there were proper arrangements for keeping the rescued cattle.
Cattle seized from smugglers are sent to cowsheds maintained by charitable organisations. But in the districts where there are no cowsheds or where they are overcrowded, the district police have to arrange the fodder.
And in many cases, the cattle end up being back on the smuggler’s truck.
(With inputs from Ravik Bhattacharya in Kolkata and Aditya Nath Jha in Purnia)