Why cattle smugglers are having a free run in Rajasthan’s Alwar, Bharatpur
An alleged nexus between smugglers and police and increasing numbers of stray cattle help the illegal trade flourish.
From a distance, villages on the border of Rajasthan and Haryana look like any other rural hamlet — narrow, dirt roads lined with clumps of small earthen houses. But many of these settlements are smugglers’ dens and have recorded numerous cases of cow smuggling, police data reveals.
The border districts of Alwar and Bharatpur together account for a third of all cattle smuggling cases recorded in Rajasthan.
In Alwar, an average of seven cases was registered every month this year under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995. The corresponding number stood at five for Bharatpur, say police.
Hindustan Times travelled to the two districts to examine the workings of the illegal cow trade, and spoke to several smugglers on the condition of anonymity.
Many smugglers said they acted as agents of illegal slaughterhouses in Haryana’s Nuh district, and started their day by conducting a recce of local areas where many residents abandon their cattle. The smugglers then round up the stray cattle and herd them into vehicles after nightfall before packing them off to Haryana. They get Rs5,000 for every cow successfully transported .
“People from Haryana approach us to act as local agents because we know the routes where they can avoid police and gaurakshaks (cow protectors). Most of us have our relations in Haryana,” said one of them in Bharatpur. He added that usually three to four people travel in each vehicle and divide the money. “In some areas, we have to give a monthly amount of Rs20,000 for two rounds to police. Hamari setting ho jati hai, police rokti nahi (we strike a deal with the police and they don’t stop us),” added the man in mid-40s.
Bharatpur’s additional superintendent of police (Deeg) Surendra Kavia dismissed this charge. “We are cracking down on them,” the officer said.
The reach of the smugglers in Haryana extends to the Capital. Delhi police say more than thirty gangs of cattle lifters, each comprising of 10 to 15 members, operate in Haryana’s Mewat and Nuh regions. The gangs have a unique modus operandi.
They steal tempos and trucks and then modify them by installing heavy iron bumpers and guarders in such a way that they can hit and damage police barricades and vehicles and escape. The cattle thieves are instructed to ram the vehicle into any vehicles, including that of the police, if they follow or chase them. The driver is rewarded, if he successfully brings the vehicle and stolen cattle back to Mewat even at the cost of police deaths.
In the past three years, Rajasthan has ramped up efforts to protect its 13 million bovine animals and end smuggling by setting up 39 police outposts across the state, six each in Alwar and Bharatpur.
The state, where cow slaughter is punishable by up to 10 years in jail, also has set up India’s only cow welfare ministry.
But the state has been dogged by reports of cow vigilante violence. In April, dairy farmer Pehlu Khan was lynched by alleged cow-protection vigilantes in Alwar who accused him of smuggling the animal. Khan had bought the cow legally. Last month, men ferrying cows were attacked.
Also added to the burden are increasing numbers of stray cattle.
“Farmers abandon their cows when they become non-productive. All male cattle are abandoned because they have no utility,” said Rajasthan animal husbandry director Ajay Kumar Gupta. He said the animal husbandry department didn’t keep track of stray cattle because it is the responsibility of local bodies.
In Deeg , a smuggler said they used opium to sedate the cattle so that the animals stay quiet during the transport. “A maximum of 20 cattle is smuggled in one round. We use Tata 407 Pick-up, Bolera or milk tankers for this. Tankers carry the most animals. We keep welding machines to seal the tankers temporarily after loading cattle into it,” he said.
In Bharatpur district, Ghatmika village grabbed national headlines last month after local resident Umar Mohammad was found dead on the railway tracks in Alwar. Police said he and two others were transporting cattle when “anti-social elements” attacked them. A badly damaged pick-up truck was recovered nearby. In his village, 75 residents have more than one criminal case against them, including that of cow smuggling, show police data .
Ghatmika village chief Shaukat Ali rubbished the charge. “There’s only one family that indulges in smuggling. When I was elected the sarpanch, I requested everyone not to indulge in the crime because our village is already infamous but this family doesn’t listen,” he said. Umar’s uncle Illiyas also parroted the claim.
“Only five brothers in the village indulge in the crime,” said the 61-year-old.
(with inputs from Karn Pratap Singh in New Delhi)