Not quiet on northern front

Updated on Feb 17, 2008 12:25 AM IST
On a trip along the India-Nepal border in Bihar, Manish Tiwari finds pockets dotted with people pushing guns, drugs and fake currency into India.
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Hindustan Times | ByManish Tiwari

There is mounting evidence of hostile activity across India’s 1,751-km open border with Nepal. Among the activities going unchecked along the belt are trafficking in arms and explosives, drugs and counterfeit currency.

A weeklong travel along the border districts of East and West Champaran, Madhubani and Kishanganj in Bihar and some parts of Nepal revealed not just the vulnerability of the border but also the helplessness of security officials to check such activity.

Security officials say that though friendly ties with Nepal enabled them to bring back kidney racket kingpin Amit Kumar, the fact that he managed to get across so easily highlights the border’s frequent abuse by miscreants.

There is harder evidence too. Rs 21 lakh of counterfeit notes were seized three months ago from a Bangladeshi in a Raxaul-bound train. Last year, the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB), a paramilitary force deployed five years ago to guard the India-Nepal border, nabbed four persons and seized 3 kg of the explosive RDX, foreign-made pistols and ammunition at Kishanganj. Since 2003, the SSB has seized 352 guns, 1,022 rounds of ammunition, 12,893 kg of ganja, 281 kg of charas and 4 kg of hard drugs including heroin. The SSB also arrested 482 smugglers during the period, shows a report.

SSB officials admit that at least some such consignments might have gone through the border undetected.

Birganj in Nepal, 200 km from Patna and situated just across the border near Raxaul, is not only a big smuggling centre of marijuana and counterfeit notes, it is also reported to have become the nerve-centre of anti-national activities, says Shaukat Ali, assistant customs commissioner at the Raxaul border.

Triangulation: Nepal as a conduit

Security officials say that the India-Nepal border in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh is witnessing a “three-way” trouble, with criminals from Bangladesh and Pakistan too using the Nepal route to move in and out of India. “During interrogation, Hasan Ali, Mohammed Harun, Mohammed Ainul and Mohammed Sentu, who were arrested last year, told us that they were residents of Malda in West Bengal. These people had migrated to India from Bangladesh about 15 years back and were involved in anti-national activities,” says an SSB official at Kishanganj, the border district 370 km north of Patna.

In the past few years, the arrest of three Pakistan High Commission officials in Nepal on charges of possessing fake Indian currency and dealing in explosives were also a case in point. “It established that Pakistan was using Nepal to launch anti-India activities,” states an SSB report of 2007. A Nepal connection has been established in the bomb blasts in Mumbai and Varanasi in 2006, and Delhi in 2005.

An additional director-general of police in Bihar says, “The seizure of crores of rupees in fake currency, narcotics and explosives on the border has exposed links with [Pakistan’s] Inter-Services Intelligence agency. The magnitude of the problem is far more than expected.”

Gaurav Kumar, a local journalist in Kishanganj, says, “Talk to the right people in this sleepy town about AK-47 guns, fake currency, drugs and RDX, and they will tell you where to get them. Everything is available.”

In the past two years, several top security agency officials have visited the India-Nepal border. In 2006, Intelligence Bureau chief ESL Narasimhan visited Raxaul to take stock of reports of the growing activities of militants and smugglers along the border.

Too far from the Centre?

A travel through the border along Kishanganj — Pothia, Thakurganj, Chaupra Panchayat, Islampur and Panjipara — revealed a large number of Bangaldeshis living illegally along the area.

Matin Salfi, chairman of the Tauheed Educational Trust in Kishanganj, says, “The government should find out who they are... . But I am against calling them ‘infiltrators’ —they can be called ‘unauthorised settlers’.”

An intelligence official says, “We keep sending reports to the Government of India whenever we get to know their names, but very little happens.”

What is the solution? SSB deputy inspector-general (Patna frontier) SK Jha says, “No amount of vigil can check infiltration and smuggling unless the border is sealed or proper checks are put in place. The moment you enter Nepal, [it’s as if] you have entered Bihar, and thus India.”

“We had proposed to the Government of India that fencing the border would be the best solution, but it seems there are constraints to do this in view of our friendly relations with Nepal,” says Jha.

For Sunil Kumar Jha, superintendent of police in East Champaran, a district severely hit by Naxal activities, “The border cannot be closed through fencing. People from one side have been married on the other side. They have business interests. While one part of a village falls in India, the other may be in Nepal. It’s not possible to fence it.”

Another senior Bihar police official suggests issuing identification cards to people living in the border areas.

Whatever the solution, it seems to be Delhi’s call now.

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