As police probe the alleged Bangladeshi angle in the Jahangirpuri riots, an India Today report from inside the human-smuggling rings last year shed light on the entire modus of the cross-border racket – from illegal entries to securing Indian IDs fraudulently.
DOUBLING AS MONEY CHANGERS
India Today’s special investigation in January 2021 found human smugglers doubling as money changers in West Bengal, bringing illegal migrants via relatively weak defences along the international border.
Banka, who operated Sabhar Enterprise money-changing facility at the Petrapole integrated check post, about 80 km from Kolkata, solicited Rs 15,000 per head to facilitate illegal migration into India.
He confessed that people and smugglers worked more closely on both sides of the Indo-Bangladesh border.
“Earlier, people used to cross for Rs 3,000, Rs 4,000, Rs 8,000, Rs 10,000. Now that has gone up to Rs 15,000, Rs 16,000, Rs 17,000. People are demanding as per their wish,” he told India Today’s investigative reporter.
Banka hinted that the ring also organised forged IDs of both countries to help free migrants in the event of potential arrests by border guards on either side.
“If they are caught in Bangladesh, then a Bangladeshi address is needed and if they get caught in India, then an Indian address is needed. Then it becomes easier to free them.”
SLIPPING IN THROUGH THE GAPS
The operation, Banka said, takes place after it gets dark along routes like Maslandapur, Hanskhali, and Bangaon in West Bengal.
“It costs Rs 15,000 (per head). We have people over there. I will talk over the phone. Does your man have a Bangla (Bangladeshi) number?” he asked India Today’s undercover reporter. “Give that number to us, I will make him understand. They can come from that side, from the Maslandapur side and from the Hanskhali side as well. They will come from the line where the condition is good.”
Just 50 meters from the border, another money changer, Madhab Saha, guaranteed smuggling of Bangladeshi migrants if paid Rs 18,000 per person.
“There’s a 200 per cent guarantee (to bring them in),” he offered. “You will pay me 18,000 Indian rupees. It’s a 200 per cent guarantee. You will give money and your job will be done.”
Saha admitted that his network smuggled three to four people every week.
At Basirhat, barely five kilometers from the border, Viswanath confessed to his involvement in human-smuggling operations.
The man offered a cheaper deal of Rs 8,000 per head to bring illegal migrants into India from Bangladesh.
“It’s a matter between the borders. He (the illegal migrant) will come comfortably. Sometimes there might be problems. But no need to worry. He will come comfortably. My house is here,” Viswanath said.
ASSEMBLY POINTS IN BANGLADESH
The human smuggler identified Satkhira in southwestern Bangladesh as the location for potential illegal migrants to assemble before proceeding towards India.
“He will meet them (my men) at Satkhira and will be brought to the border, which will be crossed when it’s dark,” Viswanath said. It will cost 8,000 (rupees) for each person.”
COUNTERFEITING INDIAN IDs
India Today’s investigation found touts offering package deals on Indian identity documents obtained fraudulently for illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
They claimed the IDs they provided were genuine.
Bapu Majumdar ran a paperwork facility in Barasat.
When probed, he offered to organize voter, Aadhaar and PAN cards for illegal migrants.
“There are some people in Bangladesh. Their documents have to be made. Will it be done?” the reporter investigated Majumdar following a tip.
“Yes, it will be completed in two-three days for seven-eight people. But not in one day because we do not have all the documents (of all the people). So we cannot put too much pressure on one ID,” the tout replied. “We do both Aadhaar and PAN cards. If you ask us to do both, we will do it. And if you need a voter card, we will do that as well.”
Majumdar’s had his own price list for various IDs.
“The voter, Aadhaar and PAN (together) will cost 20 (Rs 20,000). You will get all three of them,” he said. “You will get PAN and Aadhaar within one month. But the voter card will take some time because it will be done when the name appears on the list. You will have to pay half the money before and the rest after checking the list. We will give the card as well.”
“Will you give the voter card?” asked the reporter.
“Yes, you won’t have to go anywhere. We will give the card as well,” Majumdar confirmed.
“It will be genuine, right?” the journalist wondered.
“Yes, yes. The name will be there on the list, the name of the school where the person will have to vote. All the details will be given. That is the package,” the tout claimed.
India shares about a 4,100-km-long international border with Bangladesh, of which about 2,220 km run along West Bengal alone.
Most of the international border is fenced, except for parts that the government says can’t be fully covered because of topographical, land-acquisition, Covid-19 issues, among others.
Barely 24 km from the border with Bangladesh, Tanmay Ghosh also offered a package deal for fraudulently-obtained Indian IDs that he promised to deliver in batches.
“Everything cannot be done together. First Aadhaar, then through the Aadhaar card, we will take out the PAN card. After getting these two, we will take out the ration card. Then the voter card will happen,” he told India Today’s investigative reporter last year.
“Did you make documents of Bangladeshi people earlier?” the journalist asked.
“I have made so many (of such documents). The total package may cost 12-14 to Rs 15,000 (for ten people). It may be a bit more or less. I cannot say that beforehand,” Ghosh replied. “It will include everything — Aadhaar, PAN and voter (cards).”
“You have done this before, right?” the reporter asked Ghosh.
“This is what I have been doing for the last 15 years,” the tout confessed.
At Ghatakpukur in South 24 Parganas, Alam Mallik offered to deliver all key Indian IDs, including the voter card, for Rs 15,000 per illegal Bangladeshi migrant.
“The Aadhaar card will be made in one-two weeks. After it is done, you will have to come here after two weeks along with a receipt, which I will give you tomorrow. After two weeks, I will take out the print of the Aadhaar card and apply for PAN and ration cards. PAN and ration cards will be made in one week. After that, I will apply for the voter card,” Mallik explained.
He demanded Rs 15,000 for the job.
Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai told the Lok Sabha earlier this month that funds around Rs 303 crore were allocated to secure the India-Bangladesh border in West Bengal and in the northeastern states.
“The government of India,” he said in a written reply, “has adopted a multi-pronged approach to strengthen the security along international borders, which inter-alia includes deployment of border guarding forces along the international borders, effective domination of the borders by patrolling, laying nakas, manning observation posts, vulnerability mapping and holistic review of deployment periodically, establishing new border outposts, deployment of surveillance equipment, strengthening of intelligence network, erection of border fencing and floodlighting, and deployment of technological solutions in non-feasible areas like riverine gaps, etc.”
GREATER REGIONAL COORDINATION HOLDS KEY
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has categorized migrant smuggling as a deadly but increasingly attractive business globally.
“Migrant smugglers”, it notes, “constantly change routes and modus operandi in response to changed circumstances often at the expense of the safety of the smuggled migrants.”
Highly sophisticated and expensive services rely on document fraud or “visa-smuggling”, the UNODC says. Contrasted with these are low-cost methods which often pose high risks for migrants, and have led to a dramatic increase in loss of life in recent years, it says.
The UN body, however, underscores the need for greater coordination across and between regions and for adaptability to new methods in order to tackle international crime better.