The city police on Thursday stumbled upon an international racket in contraband tiger skins, with the arrest of a 22-year-old youth from the Jorasanko area of north Calcutta.
Accused Montu Singh was rounded up from Zakaria Street, where he had gone to sell the skin of a Royal Bengal Tiger, according to Timir Bhattacharya, officer-in-charge of Jorasanko police station.
“When we learnt from our sources that a youth had entered the area with a tiger skin, we laid a trap and deployed policemen in plain clothes on the spot. Around 2.15 pm, Singh was seen walking down the road. He was carrying a leather bag, in which the tiger skin was kept. He aroused no suspicion, but we arrested him without giving him a chance to escape,” said OC Bhattacharya. Police, however, failed to track down the client.
Officials of the Zoological Survey of India and the wildlife conservation wing of the government are expected to reach the police station within a day or two. “They will examine the skin and peg its value in the black market,” said an official of Jorasanko police station. The killed tiger appears to have been of middle age.
During the course of interrogation, Montu told police he was part of a racket that operates between the Sunderbans, Calcutta, Dhaka and Karachi. “The skin smugglers collect tiger skins from poachers in the Sunderbans. They then bring the consignment to the port area by riverine routes,” explained OC Bhattacharya.
As soon as the consignment reaches the city, smugglers start scouting for prosperous clients and trying to settle a deal. “Normally, they target areas like Tarachand Dutta Street and Zakaria Street. They keep a close watch on these areas, because most of the Bangladeshi nationals who come to the city with vested interests prefer to lodge in the vicinity,” Bhattacharya added.
Elaborating on the network, he said: “The clients purchase the skins and smuggle them into Bangladesh. Most of the time, they use the Petrapole-Benapole border, the easiest route to smuggle goods.”
Preliminary investigations revealed that a part of the skins is taken to Dhaka and smuggled into Pakistan by air. “Each skin has a price-tag of Rs 50,000 to 1 lakh in the black market. The value depends on the size of the skin,” said another official of Jorasanko police station.
The cops, however, are still in the dark about Montu’s background. “We have only just arrested him. It is clear that he is one of the members of the international racket. But, there are a number of such persons in the port area who are engaged in tiger-skin smuggling. Montu has given us some leads and we are zeroing in on some people. More arrests are expected within a day or two,” assured OC Bhattacharya.