Jobless migrant workers in Bengal become cross-border smugglers | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Jobless migrant workers in Bengal become cross-border smugglers

Hindustan Times, Kolkata | ByJoydeep Thakur| Edited by Sabir Hussain
Aug 31, 2020 06:45 PM IST

Jobless migrant workers who returned from other states are being lured to smuggling and trafficking with the promise of easy money.

On the night of August 23, the Border Security Force nabbed a 25-year-old youth Ahsan Ali from West Bengal’s Murshidabad district when he was allegedly trying to smuggle cattle to Bangladesh across the border.

In June and July, the BSF apprehended 104 people allegedly involved in smuggling cases along the border in Bengal’s Murshidabad district.(PTI)
In June and July, the BSF apprehended 104 people allegedly involved in smuggling cases along the border in Bengal’s Murshidabad district.(PTI)

During interrogation, Ali told the officials that he used to work as a labourer in Kerala and had returned to his native village in Murshidabad because of the Covid-19 pandemic. But as he was jobless, he was lured to smuggling by another villager.

Ali, however, is not the only one. When BSF apprehended 42-year-old Nitai Mondol on August 27 from Nadia district, while allegedly trying to smuggle Phensedyl cough syrup to Bangladesh, he told the officers during interrogation that he took to smuggling after losing his job because of the lockdown. He used to work as a vendor in Howrah and earn around Rs 8,000 per month. For every smuggling consignment he was promised Rs 300.

Over the past few months, BSF officials have intercepted quite a few cases in which jobless migrant workers who returned from other states are being lured to smuggling and trafficking with the promise of easy money. Even women are being lured to join the trade to smuggle Phensedyl, yaba tablets and jewelry. More than 100 people have been arrested in the past one month.

While migrant workers started arriving in the state from the end of May, BSF have apprehended 104 people allegedly involved in smuggling cases in June and July. In 2019, 80 people were nabbed and in 2018, 39 people were nabbed in these two months. This year between June and August, 21 human traffickers were apprehended. In 2018 BSF apprehended only two traffickers in these three months. In 2019 none were arrested.

“Some jobless migrant workers are being targeted and lured into criminal activities including cross-border smuggling of cattle and narcotics with the promise of easy money. Some have already been apprehended and have spilled the names of those involved. The BSF is alert and keeping a close watch,” said SS Guleria, deputy inspector general (South Bengal Frontier) of BSF.

While the BSF has managed to bring down cattle smuggling and infiltration, smuggling of smaller items such as yaba tablets, ganja, Phensedyl and jewelry still continues. The smugglers just throw the items in pouches over the boundary fence. Innovative ways like hiding smuggled items inside cattle carcasses floating down the river are also used.

According to data from the 2011 census, Bengal ranks fourth among the states from where people migrate. Between 2001 and 2011, 5.8 lakh people had migrated from Bengal. Murshidabad, a border district accounts for the most migration among all districts.

“More than 10 lakh migrant workers have returned to the state during the pandemic. The state government has already engaged nearly six lakhs in 100-day work programme under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act,” said a senior official of the state government.

The Indo-Bangladesh border in West Bengal is the longest international border in any state in the country. Out of the 4,096 km long Indo-Bangla border, West Bengal alone shares 2,216 km with the neighbouring country. In south Bengal, the border is more than 900 km long out which nearly 60% is riverine.

The Indo-Bangladesh border, particularly in West Bengal, is also one of the most porous. Data placed by the Union ministry of home affairs in the Parliament in March 2020 shows that in 2017, 2018 and 2019 security agencies arrested 1,175, 1,118 and 1,351 people along the entire stretch of the Indo-Bangla border in India.

Migrant workers started returning to the state when Shramik Special trains were allowed in mid-May. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had earlier said that the government would create a database of migrant workers on the basis of their skills so that a bank of manpower could be created and the migrant workers could be provided with livelihood opportunities.

“Several migrant workers have already started returning to their place of work in other states as they could not find any job in Bengal,” said a senior official of the state government.

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