It takes only Rs 1,000 for a Bangladeshi infiltrator to acquire an Indian PAN (permanent account number) card. And another Rs 300 to walk across the 4,095 km Indo-Bangladesh border if sneaking in isn’t an option.
On April 8, the police in western Assam’s Dhubri district (adjoining Bangladesh) arrested 13 petty clothes traders at Gauripur town. Six of them were released after they produced documents establishing them to be residents of West Bengal. The remaining seven confessed to being Bangladeshi citizens.
The seven – all residents of Gopalganj district in Bangladesh – admitted to having paid Rs 300 per head at the border to step into Tripura earlier this year and traveled across the Northeast to peddle their wares at Gauripur.
The seven had three mobile phones and as many SIM cards from Indian cellular service providers. Two of them – Arif Sheikh and Tapan Biswas – possessed PAN cards an agent in Tripura capital Agartala had provided for Rs 1,000 each.
The agent, possibly going by an alias, is an inhabitant of Comilla district in Bangladesh (adjoining Tripura) who also home-delivers Indian SIM cards to would-be infiltrators, the arrested men said.
“Easy access to vital documents that can establish a foreigner as an Indian citizen makes it that much harder in detecting Bangladeshi nationals,” said Additional SP (Border) Deben Deka from Dhubri town. “Like infiltrators, even militants can easily acquire PAN cards.”
Deka added one of the arrested men confessed to have used his connection in the 5th Battalion of the Border Security Force (BSF) to cross over. The 5th Battalion mans a stretch of Meghalaya’s border with Bangladesh, far away from Tripura where the seven said they entered.
“It is very easy to allege. Let them (Assam police) give substantial indication who these men paid and at which point of Tripura’s 856 km border with Bangladesh, and we’ll take action,” BSF Inspector-General (Tripura sector) Ramesh Singh told Hindustan Times from Agartala.
Organizations such as All Assam Students’ Union (AASU), having spearheaded a major anti-foreigners agitation, are not amused by such technicalities. “Our demand for a second line of defence along the Indo-Bangladesh border has been vindicated,” said AASU advisor Samujjal K Bhattacharyya.
The Northeast has since 1971 been touchy about a “demographic invasion” from Bangladesh. New Delhi subsequently woke up to the presence of some 30 million illegal Bangladeshis and decided in the late 1980s to fence the Indo-Bangladesh border.
A Union Home Ministry report in November last year said 3,437 km border of the 4,095 km India-Bangladesh border was to be fenced by March 2010. It added work had been completed along a 2,800 km stretch.
By October 2007, India had spent Rs 2,881.58 crore on fencing and flood-lighting on a 2,529 km stretch of the border.