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Issue of cattle smuggling along India-Bangladesh border

Published: 20th Jul, 2020

In first such official articulation on cattle smuggling, the Border Security Force (BSF) has said the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) supports the “inhuman, merciless and seditious” activity.


In first such official articulation on cattle smuggling, the Border Security Force (BSF) has said the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) supports the “inhuman, merciless and seditious” activity.

The cattle trade between India and Bangladesh

  • The US$500 million worth cattle trade between India and Bangladesh is mostly illegal.
  • The demand for meat in Bangladesh and the hide for the country’s leather industries keep the trade running.
  • Moreover, the unofficial ban on cow slaughter in many Indian states could be adding to the availability of cattle for smuggling into Bangladesh.
  • Notwithstanding the efforts of the border guarding forces, the trade goes on almost in full public spectacle and knowledge.

How the cattle smuggling takes place?

  • Cattle traverse hundreds of kilometres from states like Rajasthan, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Jharkhand to reach the Bangladeshi cattle markets, called the ‘khattals’.
  • They are transported in trucks to their border destinations in West Bengal and Assam. Chilies are stuffed into the eyes of the animals to keep them standing and save space on the trucks in which they are transported.
  • From these border points, smugglers use either the porous land route or the waterways through the rivers Kalindi, Ichhamati, Raimangal, and Hariabhanga of Bangladesh to finally enter the country.
  • There have also been instances of secret tunnels dug up, by the miscreants, between Bangladesh and India. The man-made tunnel uses fitted drain pipes and to stay hidden, the cover of the dense forest.
  • Apart from these innovative ways of trafficking the animal, may smugglers also attach heavy wood logs to the animal’s legs and raft them across the river to reach the shore of the neighbouring country.

Steps taken by India

  • The BSF guards the Indo-Bangladesh border. Its 45 battalions have been deployed in 725 BOPs along the border. The task of the BSF along the Indo-Bangladesh border toughens as the density of the population rises. BSF was instructed to bring the trade to a halt.
  • The government has adopted the use of a non-lethal strategy to deal with the smuggling issue. The troops operate with non-lethal weapons like pump action guns, stun grenades, and chili grenades. On at least two occasions, this has resulted in casualties in the BSF. There have been casualties amongst the cattle smugglers too.
  • The BSF who patrols the area in groups of three or four are often outnumbered by hundreds of cattle smugglers who are armed with self-made weapons like dah, a long thick dagger; crude bombs; and even homemade pistols.
  • A similar scenario plays out at the fenced border where the smugglers cut the fences without much resistance from the outnumbered BSF personnel. The BSF has taken proactive steps to address this problem.

The Impacts of the steps taken by India

  • The government has sanctioned new attack motorboats and larger troop strength at the border. This has proved itself useful, at least according to the official figures regarding the number of figures seized.
    • 1, 01, 751 heads of cattle were seized in 2014, 1, 53, 602 in the year 215 and 1, 68, 801 heads during 2016.
    • In the first few months of 2017 around 30,99,744 cattle, heads were seized along the border with the number rising to 1.3-1.5 lakh heads towards the end of the year.
  • The operations carried out by the BSF, have somewhat obviated the cattle smuggling regimes occurring via land routes. This has forced the cattle smugglers to improvise and come up with new routes of smuggling using pipe culverts in the Karimganj district. These pipes facilitate water supply in the region and allow the smugglers to take advantage of the gaps in the riverine regions of the border.
  • The locals try and employ ‘Ghat Maliks’ who acts as a muscleman and a form of contact with the BSF, trying to bribe the guards. The BSF has also aimed at improving the local community relations to aid their vigil and this has proven fruitful.
  • Preventing cross border smuggling is especially difficult during the winter months along the riverine stretches, where the fog hampers the vision of the patrolling guards and the poor infrastructure doesn’t abet any surveillance difficulties.
  • With the withdrawal of the monsoon season, the water level remains low in the rivers; this coupled with the fog allows the most felicitous environment that the smugglers could hope for.
  • Moreover, for the BSF the winter months also mean deserted villages and low temperatures leading to neglectful vigilance on behalf of the villagers too.

Bangladeshi Narrative

  • Bangladesh has traditionally been dependent on the supply of cattle from India and other countries. Both the meat and the hide are in great demand.
  • According to an estimate Bangladeshi traders associated with cattle auctions, thus providing cattle legally to slaughter-houses, bone-crushing industries, etc. contributed 3 percent to the entire nation’s GDP of US$19 billion. The illegal trade is much larger and unaccounted for.
  • Unlike the illegal migration of Bangladeshi nationals into India, which Dhaka disputes, Bangladesh appears to have extended its cooperation in stopping the illegal cattle trade.
    • The Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) guards the Bangladesh side of the Indo-Bangladesh border. They have deployed around 30 battalions in roughly 650 BOPs.
  • The BSF and BGB hold two ‘coordination conferences’ each year, which are organized alternatively in Bangladesh and India. The BGB officials are on record saying that the illegal cattle trade harms Bangladesh’s economy.
  • The Bangladeshi government, along with their enhanced security, is also promoting local cattle rearing amongst the residents to discourage or dissipate the need for illegal cattle exchange.


Despite the BSF’s intervention which has reportedly resulted in the reduction in the scale of the illegal cattle trade, it is a huge challenge to completely halt the cattle smuggling from India into Bangladesh.

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