A mass scale transfer of senior and middling level officers of India’s Border Security Force (BSF), including some from the paramilitary force’s intelligence wing, since December 2018 suggests that new director general Rajni Kant Misra, an IPS officer of the 1984 batch, is on a clean-up mission. Misra, according to senior government sources, has already shunted out a large number of officers, including those in the rank of inspector-general, for their alleged involvement in cattle smuggling in the border states of West Bengal and Tripura.
These “quiet” transfers, preceded by preliminary inquiries initiated by Misra, who took charge of the BSF in October 2018, are “indirectly” linked to the exit of CBI director Alok Verma who was alleged by the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) to have “helped” a nexus of BSF officers and cattle smugglers.
Tucked away at the bottom of a list of allegations (since found baseless) that the CVC built up against Verma was a seemingly innocuous accusation: “Helping the cattle smugglers-commandant of BSF”. Barring two, the CVC found these allegations, as well this particular accusation, “not substantiated or false”.
The high-powered committee comprised Prime Minister Narendra Modi, leader of opposition Mallikarjun Kharge and Chief Justice of India’s nominee Justice A K Sikri. A copy of a six-page note prepared by Kharge, ‘Submissions for High-Powered Committee on January 10, 2019’, which carries details of the CVC’s allegations and findings, besides the leader of opposition’s own conclusions, is in the possession of the South Asian Monitor. According to Kharge, “…as the Supreme Court has held, mere allegations or circumstantial evidence cannot be the basis for finding a person guilty”.
These allegations were part of the charges that CBI special director Rakesh Asthana made in a letter to the CVC K V Chowdary last year. Investigations by the South Asian Monitor and inquiries with senior government sources have now revealed that some top former BSF and Intelligence Bureau officers, who were allegedly named by Jibu D Mathew, a former commandant of the border guarding force’s 83 Battalion, then posted in Roshanbagh (Murshidabad, West Bengal), for being involved in cattle smuggling on the India-Bangladesh border, approached Verma to “drop the case”. It is said that these senior officers, all belonging to the Indian Police Service (IPS), “offered” an illegal gratification of Rs 3 crore (Rs 3,00,00,000) to Verma, which the then CBI chief turned down.
The government sources said that when Verma did not relent, these senior BSF and IB officers allegedly approached Asthana who subsequently complained to the CVC, by being less economical with the truth. Mathew’s case was taken up by the CBI when the investigating agency arrested him on January 31, 2018, while he was travelling by train (Shalimar Express) to his native Kerala stashed with about Rs 45,00,000 in cash which, on his interrogation, was found to be the proceeds of bribes that he took from cattle smugglers in Roshanbagh which was his area of jurisdiction.
Nabbed at Alappuzha in Kerala, Mathew was commandant at Roshanbagh from November 2016 to August 2018 and was found to have been in regular touch with Bishu Shaikh, a notorious cattle, drugs and arms smuggler hailing from Kolkata.
Senior BSF officers admitted that IPS officers of the rank of IG and even some cadre officers have been beneficiaries of cattle smuggling, largely in the South Bengal and Tripura frontiers. Two former BSF directors-general are alleged to have been recipients of slush money arising out of cattle smuggling. One of the former BSF chiefs is said to hold shares in coal mines in a northeast Indian state.
There are unconfirmed reports that a powerful central government minister’s son, who is a legislator from a Uttar Pradesh district close to Delhi, one of eight or nine Indian states from where cattle is smuggled out to Bangladesh via West Bengal and Tripura, has been a beneficiary of the “massive cattle smuggling ring”.
At least four IG rank officers of the BSF, all of whom served in either West Bengal or Tripura between 2016 and 2018, were quietly transferred out and given non-operational duties following the revelation of names by Mathew. The South Asian Monitor has the officers’ names which figured in Mathew’s interrogation but is withholding publishing them for legal reasons. One of the IGs, a native of Andhra Pradesh, was posted around Berhampur/Farakka in the Murshidabad-Malda sector.
Besides the IPS officers, Mathew also spilled the beans on several BSF cadre officers, including three of the rank of deputy inspector-general who for the force’s intelligence (G) branch. One of the DIGs, who was “deeply involved in encouraging cattle smuggling”, took voluntary retirement soon after Mathew’s arrest and divulging of information and has since emigrated to Canada.
According to home ministry sources, cattle smuggling went up manifold since the BJP government at the Centre, after it assumed power in 2014, and across several northern Indian states banned the slaughter of cows and bulls. The ban gave a fillip to multi-state smuggling rings as the number of cattleheads smuggled into Bangladesh more than quadrupled.
This was encashed upon by BSF officers some of whom acted in collusion with the cattle smuggling mafia in West Bengal and Tripura, with links across other “source states”. This despite claims that barring 1,090 kms, almost the entire stretch of the India-Bangladesh border (on the West Bengal side (2,216.7 kms) and Tripura (856 kms) have been fenced. Interestingly enough, while cattle smuggling is “alive and kicking”, there is not a mention of it in the home ministry’s 2017-2018 annual report.
Sources in Bangladesh’s Narcotics Control Department, which is quite active along the country’s bordering areas with India and Mynamar, said that there were occasions when they found instances of connivance of BSF officers and jawans in smuggling of drugs and other addictive products, besides gold. While addictive substances would reach Bangladeshi border districts via Indian border states, the flow of gold would be in the opposite direction.
“None of this would be put down in reports, though often times we could convey our concerns and share intelligence verbally, especially during sector-level meeting of officers from the BSF and the Bangladesh Border Guards (BGB),” a Bangladeshi officer said.