Firing Restrictions on BSF Give Cattle Smugglers the Upper Hand
The restrictions prevent BSF personnel from taking action against cattle smugglers on the Bangladesh border.
Deepak Kumar Mondal, the officiating Commandant of 145 Battalion of Border Security Force, breathed his last on 20 October after lying comatose for almost four days at a Kolkata hospital. He leaves behind his wife and two minor children. The organisation has lost a bold and promising leader.
At a personal level, I am overcome by a sense of extreme grief because he had worked under me for over one year at Churachandpur, Manipur and had impressed me with his out-of-the-box thinking and conscientious approach.
Confrontation with Cattle Smugglers
The officer had suffered grievous injuries while trying to prevent a gang of cattle smugglers under the jurisdiction of the border outpost (BOP) Sonamura in west Tripura. While discharging his normal supervisory duties, Mondal encountered a group of 25-30 smugglers trying to move a large stock of cattle to Bangladesh. He warned the miscreants to stop.
The smugglers, however, pushed the cattle towards Bangladesh. Mondal told the nearby BOP via radio to send reinforcement while the guard and driver accompanying him caught hold of a few animals. Smugglers, who were in possession of bricks and machetes, encircled Mondal and others and pelted stones at them. The guard who was accompanying Mondal fired in air and the miscreants crushed Mondal under the wheels in their bid to escape.
This unfortunate incident brings the focus back to the rationale of the government on use of force by troops, especially opening fire with lethal weapons as well as their policy towards cattle smuggling.
Restrictions on BSF Troopers
The above mentioned scenario is typical of what the BSF troopers face everyday on the Bangladesh border. Heavily outnumbered by cattle smugglers, they find themselves hamstrung by directives that prevent them from using lethal force against miscreants. Smugglers are aware about such restrictions on troopers and therefore feel emboldened and feel free to aggressively attack when intercepted.
This fact is reflected in the increasing number of injuries and even deaths among BSF jawans.
Killing of miscreants in firing by the BSF, on the other hand, has reduced drastically from 93 in 2009 to only 24 in 2011 and stands at 9 in 2017 till date.
The handling of cases like that of Assistant Commandant Anubhav Atrey, in which a Bangladeshi miscreant was killed in firing from a “pump action gun” in May 2016 in West Bengal, sends a negative message that if one opens fire even in self-defence, he is likely to face penal action. Anubhav Atrey is likely to face a court martial.
It is no one’s argument that the troops should be trigger-happy. The fact is that the troops have a charter to fulfil and they are armed with different types of weapons to do so. Therefore, the decision to open fire or not needs to be left to the assessment of operational situation by the commander on the spot.
Cattle Smuggling in the Name of Trade
Another policy review that needs to be undertaken by the government relates to cattle smuggling. India has surplus cattle with a large lot being unproductive. This is also a fact that the leather and meat industry in Bangladesh, which is their main source of foreign currency, is heavily dependent on the cattle from India. Therefore Bangladesh actively encourages cattle smuggling and terms the activity as ‘cattle trade’.
The demand in Bangladesh is matched by supply available in India. Poor farmers who cannot afford to feed unproductive cattle need to dispose of them, and if it fetches them some money, it is only too welcome.
Religious beliefs are not allowed to come in the way of a profitable economic activity. That is why cattle from as far as Rajasthan and Haryana goes all the way to the eastern borders to be pushed into Bangladesh. The smuggling of cattle is a well-coordinated activity between cartels in Bangladesh and India.
Contrary to popular belief, cattle smuggling appears to have in fact increased during the last few years as is reflected in the increased number of animals seized. The cattle seized in 2011 stood at 1,35,291, whereas the figure stands at 1,68,801 during 2016. This implies that the cattle continue to travel to border unabated from the interior parts of the country.
Soldiers of a Lesser God
As has been advocated in the past, the government needs to take a pragmatic view of the matter and legalise cattle trade with Bangladesh. There is nothing in the constitution of India preventing this.
I would be amiss in not mentioning the attitude of the media in covering this incident. Except for one English news channel, none deemed the incident important enough to be mentioned beyond a scroll at the bottom of the screen. The sacrifice of a brave BSF officer, perhaps, is not important enough to get TRPs or maybe the incident was not suitable for creating a binary and pitch one political party against the other and raise decibel levels.
That remains the fate of the soldiers of a lesser God. Unsung, nevertheless, they continue to remain true to their calling.
Deepak is no more in this world. It will be a fitting tribute to Deepak if his sacrifice spurs the government into taking some action in the form of remedial measures.
(The writer retired from the BSF as an additional director-general. He can be reached @sood_2 . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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