The deep rumble of truck engines is the most common sound on highways across India, but, camouflaged trucks slithering along the roads in bordering districts of Rajasthan’s Mewat region at the dead of the night, have made the local police and administration wary in recent years.
Under the wrappings of canvas and seemingly nondescript exterior of these “goods carriers” an illegal trade flourishes stretching all the way to slaughterhouses in cities across the country and even across the international border.
The Rajasthan police data, states that thousands of cows are trafficked from the two border districts of Mewat region — Alwar and Bharatpur.
Senior police officials say that Rajasthan, which banned cow slaughter in 1995 by passing the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, is one of the biggest contributors of smuggled cattle to slaughterhouses in different states.
“Every year, more than 50 cases of cow smuggling come to us. Since the area falls under the Mewat region, Meo tribes people and nomadic tribes like Banjaras and Nats are involved in trafficking cattle,” says Rahul Prakash, Alwar police chief.
Until July 2015, at least 100 cases of cow smuggling were detected by the Alwar police and more than 30 cases were detected in Bharatpur.
Similarly until July 2016, police detected 72 cases of animal trafficking in Alwar and 40 in Bharatpur.
Prakash says the nomadic tribes people act as middlemen by gathering stray cattle from different parts of the state before delivering the animals to traffickers who wait at predetermined locations in trucks.
“Agents of slaughterhouse owners go to the 57 cattle fairs in the state in the guise of farmers, buy cattle in large number and smuggle the animals out of the state,” says Babulal Jangid, chief of the Gau Raksha Dal, a cow vigilante group.
Jangid, 43, recently filed an FIR against Prime Minister Narendra Modi after his comment on gau rakshaks running shops, says that he would not mind taking the help of criminals as long as cows are protected.
“There are more than 25,000 gau rakshaks in Rajsthan and we have a network of informers who inform us about cattle smuggling incidents.
“We don’t mind if someone with criminal cases against them helps us. The police can arrest them …but if they want to protect cows, we have no qualms in taking help from them,” he says.
Superintendent of police (anti-terrorism squad) Vikas Kumar, who was Alwar police chief in 2014-15, and credited of busting more than 100 cow smuggling cases, says: “In most of the cases, cattle smuggled are abandoned by their owners after they stop giving milk.”
“Traffickers transport cattle in small batches and are cautious. Once we discovered a cow being smuggled inside a car.” He said that he had set up an extensive network of informers to arrest the smugglers as the Alwar police chief.
“Apart from neighbouring states, like Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, cattle are also transported to West Bengal from where the animals are smuggled into Bangladesh, where the animal sells for more than `1.25 lakh,” Jangid says.
Local cattle owners say that bovines that have stopped giving milk are sold for Rs 4,000-5,000 whereas the animals for slaughter fetch Rs 20,000-25,000 as along with the meat, the skin fetches high returns.
An official, who did not wish to named, said at times even village panchayat members help smugglers by issuing fake certificates that say that the cattle are being sent for use dairy initiatives.
“Traffickers pay the nomadic tribes to drive cattle after they stop giving milk. The Cattle smuggling industry is worth crores of rupees,” he says.
There is no provision under the Rajasthan Bovine Act to confiscate the vehicle used for transporting cattle, the official said, adding that at times police plant liquor bottles in the trucks in order to confiscate the vehicles under the Excise Act.
Emergence of gau rakshaks has complicated the situation for police. “Police have to look out for smugglers as well deal with violence perpetrated by the cow vigilante groups,” Kumar says.