|Indian (top) and Bangladeshi boats at the Ichhamati stretch on Dashami. (Soumen Bhattacharjee)
Taki (North 24-Parganas), Oct. 25: People on the Indian side of the Ichhamati could not immerse Durga idols in the river yesterday, the first time in over six decades, as a result of heightened BSF vigil that feared militant infiltration.
Boatmen on the Indian side said the BSF and police told them not to rent out the boats to Puja committees, making the bhashan impossible. The police and the border force refused comment on the matter. Not a single idol could be immersed at Taki. They will be immersed in smaller water bodies later.
Immersion of Durga idols has been taking place on the narrow stretch of the Ichhamati since Independence. Idols from Bengal and Bangladesh are carried in boats on Dashami to the stretch, where the river is 1km wide, for immersion.
“Even though speedboats and launches belonging to the BSF and Border Guards Bangladesh used to patrol the waters on Dashami earlier, the vigil was scaled down keeping traditions in mind,” a BSF source said.
“We decided to seal the riverine border off for the sake of national security and this will continue in the future,” said Ravi Punnoth, BSF inspector-general (south Bengal).
BSF officials said that according to intelligence tip-offs, militants had planned to sneak into India during the immersions.
“We had received information that some militants and infiltrators could enter the country through the Ichhamati stretch at Taki. We were told they had plans of arriving at the stretch in boats and hop in to Indian vessels. So we decided to maintain strict vigil on the river this Dashami. Security aspects took precedence over tradition,” an official of the BSF’s intelligence wing said.
Police sources said around 10,000 people had crossed over from Bangladesh to India during immersion last year.
Yesterday, BSF personnel and their Bangladeshi counterparts patrolled the waters in Taki on speedboats, warning over microphones those waiting on boats on both banks not to venture into the river with the idols.
The police also randomly checked the identity of people on the bank in Taki.
“We organised joint patrolling with the BSF and checked of the identities of many people gathered for immersion,” said Sugato Sen, the police chief of North 24-Parganas.
An officer said 25 Bangladeshis were arrested in Taki yesterday for allegedly trying to cross over to India in boats.
Boat owners claimed they were asked by the BSF and the police not to rent out their vessels on Dashami. The BSF and the police refused comment.
Roshan Ali, the owner of a mechanised boat, said: “The police asked us not to rent out our boats to puja committees, tourists or anybody else on Dashami. We were asked to remain on the river banks with our boats. Around 300 boats are involved in immersion in Taki every year.”
Somnath Mukherjee, the chairman of the Trinamul Congress-run Taki municipality, rued the fact that the tradition was broken this year. “It is sad. Indian boats should be allowed to ply on Indian waters. Next year, the municipality will operate boats with proper identification so that the tourists can watch immersion,” he said.
“The immersion of idols of both countries was a symbol of unification of the two Bengals. Too much of security concern spoiled our day,” said 65-year-old Prabir Chakraborty, a retired state government employee.