Cattle trade rises in southwestern frontier

Wafiur Rahman, back from Jessore
Wednesday, August 30th, 2017


Thousands of cows are being brought into the country everyday for sales ahead of Eid-ul-Azha; Traders ignore death trap of crossing border for making good profit


The entire area of Putkhali in Sharsha upazila has turned into cowsheds these days. Most homesteads, backyards and some open spaces are being used for keeping cattle that have come here travelling hundreds of kilometers in another country. All day long and even at dead of night, traders are coming with hundreds of cattle heads in the market. Innumerable buyers and their local agents are flocking into the cattle market encircled by a road of about 4 kilometers in Putkhali union, one of the largest entry points of cattle smuggled into Bangladesh from India.


This was the situation in the area even in the first half of August, a month before the Eid-ul-Azha that marks slaughtering of millions of domestic animals as religious sacrifice by Muslims in Bangladesh. Nowadays, Putkhali trading point, known for smuggling of drugs, arms and other Indian goods, witnesses transactions of millions of Taka daily, between Bangladeshi traders and their Indian agents although there is no formal arrangement for paying for importing cattle from India.


Thousands of cattle are lined up for sales at different points on both sides of the border. Cattle trade is booming in each and every border point of possible entry of cattle in southwestern region stretching from Shyamnagar of Satkhira to Daulatpur of Kushtia and innumerable cows and buffalos have been brought into the country at high risks in many cases to make good business out of the coming Eid festival. Conspicuously, the cattle are legalised in Bangladesh like lost and found domestic animals through a broader understanding between authorities of the two countries.


In the first two months (July and August) of the current financial year, as many as 4000 sacrificial animals were imported  from Jessore through what is considered legalisation by the customs department which receives Tk 500 per piece as revenue at border points. According to Navaron corridor customs inspector Suma Moni, over 3,000 cows and 1,000 goats were imported from India this month. Not an impressive figure as compared to the previous years, but one has to keep the floods in mind, which is affecting the cattle trade both in Bangladesh and India.


The figures show increase in smuggling of cattle into the country ahead of Eid but they might not reflect the ground reality as all cattle are not legalised through official channels. It is generally believed that around two million cattle are smuggled into Bangladesh from India every year. In the fiscal year 2015-2016, the government legalised 827,707 cattle through 13 corridors and earned Tk 121,38,53,500, said sources at Customs Commissionerate in Jessore. A huge number of cattle come in without ‘legalisation’, thanks to excessive greed of a section of cattle traders, border sources said.


The government of Bangladesh legalises the smuggled cattle in exchange for Tk 500 as customs excise through 13 customs corridors in south-western region while the total number of such corridors is 26.  The corridors are Basantapur, Kulia, Satani and Sonabaria of Satkhira, Navaron and Salkona of Jessore, Kusumpur and Bhairaba of Jhenidah, Dariapur, Ujalpur and Bamundi of Meherpur, Karpasdanga of Chuadanga and Mohishkunda under Bheramara of Kushtia.


Of the total 21 districts of South-Western region of the country six including Jessore, Satkhira, Jhenidah, Meherpur, Chuadanga and Kushtia have border with India. Total boundary of the six districts is 612 kilometers including land and water. Cattle is being smuggled in through 475 kilometres of land boundary, according to sources in Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) said.


Although cattle trade is a legal business in Bangladesh, bringing cattle from the Indian side into Bangladesh territory paying money to traders there, remains one of the riskiest jobs on earth as the Indo-Bangladesh border proved to be a death trap for cattle traders. The Indian government does not allow export of cows, considered holy there, to Bangladesh in view of political and religious sensitivity, but tacitly allows smuggling of the cows.

About the mode of pay, a local trader seeking anonymity, told Dhaka Courier that they make payment to Indian traders in Bangladeshi Taka, also on Bangladesh soil. ‘Representatives of Indian merchant cattle traders are always present at every bordering cattle market locally known as Khatal. The transactions are made in Bangladesh currency and it does not go to India in cash,’ he said. ‘The entire system is being operated through hundi system. The Bangladeshi traders deposit money with Indian agents before they go to purchase cattle from India.’


Traders brought in the cattle when India’s Border Security Force personnel maintained a bit of relax duty especially during the shifting of batches. There are 40-50 BSF men deployed in a border outpost in India and at least 50% of them could be bribed for smuggling of cows, according to Jessore’s cattle traders. Smugglers from both the countries take advantage of the scope created by their bribed BSF men and they cross the border in less than half an hour with hundreds of cattle, border sources said.


Unfortunately, the BSF men, who either refused to take bribe or bear strong religious sentiment against cow slaughtering, often open fire on the cattle traders, leading dozens of people killed every year. Till 13 August this year, BSF killed 22 Bangladeshi nationals mostly cattle traders in different border areas, as per official sources. Last year they had killed so far 48 Bangladeshi people, according to the statistic of Right Jessore, a non-government organisation. Those who were killed were poor villagers and carriers of the cattle and they took the high risks to earn a living for their families.


Civil society leaders said the loss of lives of the unarmed people along the border could be avoided, if New Delhi legalises the process of importing cattle from India — informal trade of US$1 billion a year that has been taking place over the years due to demand-supply match but with high risks and bitterness along the border. In fact, many believe, border killing could be brought down to near zero if the problems relating to smuggling are addressed. About this matter, Lieutenant Colonel Tariqul Hakim, commanding officer of BGB-21 battalion, Khulna, said it is a bilateral political issue between Bangladesh and India. ‘And also there is a bar on trading in livestock,’ he added.


A top government official seeking anonymity said many people in India, especially conservative Hindus, consider cow as a holy animal and one of their goddess. ‘So they will not be happy to allow exports of cows that would be slaughtered.’ Indian politicians are interested in taking risks of losing votes by deciding to export cows to Bangladesh. Sources in the frontier areas also said some political leaders here, too, do not want to see cow trading in a legal shape as some of them have a huge earning from the informal trade.


Nasir, a youth who works as a herder at Putkhali, said they get only Tk 900 for bringing in a pair of cows from India swimming twice to cross Ichamati River and Dumor Beel, a water body in India. Nasir has come to Putkhali from Palong upazila of Shoriyatpur for a better living. Quite number of youths like Nasir were seen doing the same in the area to earn Tk 1200-1500 per night, risking nothing but their own lives. ‘It was a very lucrative job earlier as we earned Tk 4500 to Tk 5000 for bringing a pair of cows from India. This has been cheap nowadays,’ he said. Amir Hossain, another youth there doing the same job, said, ‘Everyone is doing this work and nobody knows when a bullet of BSF men will stop his life forever.’

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