A container truck, sporting the name of a branded milk and milk product company and bearing a Uttar Pradesh registration number, was seized by Purulia police on Tuesday after they found cattle in the vehicle without valid documents.
The cattle came illegally from Aurangabad in Bihar in a covered truck, police said. It came to light after the vehicle overturned on NH60A early on Tuesday in Bishpuria village under Hura police station limits of Purulia district.
Around the same time and nearly 90km away from Hura in Jharkhand’s Dhanbad, cow vigilante group Gau Raksha Dal waylaid a postal parcel container carrying cattle to an undisclosed destination. They stopped the covered truck with 40 cattle along Delhi-Calcutta NH-2 under Barwada police station area of Dhanbad and handed over the vehicle and livestock to police. The driver and the helper fled. A police officer said preliminary investigation revealed that the truck, bearing a Nagaland registration number, was headed towards Bengal.
The twin incidents come in the backdrop of Trinamul’s Birbhum strongman Anubrata Mondal’s recent arrest by the CBI in a cattle-smuggling case and Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s claim that illegal cattle traders from states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar were using Bengal as a corridor to smuggle livestock to Bangladesh.
Though the CBI is probing the cattle-smuggling case, the spurt in the illegal transportation of cows into neighbouring Bangladesh has much to do with the Narendra Modi government’s push for a nationwide ban on cattle slaughter, some experts say.
The Centre has also had to withdraw its initial aggressive stand on cow slaughter because of electoral concerns in states with a significant number of people who consume beef.
Some experts say that the cow slaughter ban implemented in nearly two dozen states and Union territories has hurt the rural economy with unproductive cattle becoming a burden on farmers. Cow vigilantism, like the one in Dhanbad on Tuesday, have forced farmers to keep unproductive cows with food, water and medicine.
“Cow vigilantism has made a valid trade in cattle, particularly in states where cow slaughter is not banned, look illegal. The rural economy is the worst victim of such vigilantism,” said Calcutta-based sociologist Surojit C. Mukhopadhyay.
“This is why incidents like transporting cattle on the sly in covered trucks are increasing. One could infer that the ban in a way is fuelling the illegal trade in cattle,” he added.
Several police officers in the border districts say that as farmers can’t dispose of unproductive cattle and there is a market for cows in Bangladesh, smugglers are going for the kill. “Unless a valid alternative system is put in place, cattle-smuggling will be difficult to rein in,” a senior police officer in Nadia said.
The Purulia incident on Tuesday gave Trinamul the opportunity to turn the tables on the BJP.
Trinamul’s Purulia unit president Soumen Belthoria said: “Our chief minister has rightly said that cows were being transported from the BJP-ruled states and our leaders being falsely implicated in cattle smuggling.”
However, countering this, BJP leader in Purulia Abdul Alim Ansari said that if the truck did not overturn on Tuesday, the cattle would have been transported unhindered.
“Police did not check the vehicles and it goes to show Trinamul nexus in cattle smuggling,” said Ansari.
At Hura on Tuesday, police arrested three persons, including the driver of the truck, and registered a case under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, and criminal conspiracy, theft and receiving and transporting stolen property.
The police said the truck hailed from UP and the livestock were loaded from a cattle market in Aurangabad in Bihar.
"Altogether 22 cows were being transported and five died in the accident. We were surprised to find cows being transported in a container truck that had the name of a branded milk company inscribed on it to hoodwink the police," said an investigating officer at Hura police station.
While interrogating the driver and two helpers of the truck, the police came to know that the cows were loaded from the cattle market in Aurangabad and were taken to Calcutta for the purpose of farming.
"But they couldn't furnish documents in support of transporting livestock. Moreover the way the cows were being transported inside a suffocating container truck was also illegal. We are looking for the vehicle owner,” said Pinaki Dutta, additional superintendent of police, Purulia.
Sources said cattle smugglers avoid prominent highways like NH2, which connects Delhi and Calcutta, while transporting cattle from UP and Bihar through Bengal because of the ongoing CBI crackdown.
“The driver told us that they were transporting cattle to a Calcutta market from Bihar’s Aurangabad. To avoid a vigil on the national highway, the truck took a detour of the NH60A," said a police officer.
Speaking about the seizure of cattle from a parcel container in Dhanbad, Gau Raksha Dal member Suman Kumar Verma linked it to the cattle-smuggling racket in Bengal.
“This was the first instance of cattle traffickers using a parcel van to escape the attention of police and cow vigilante groups. We got a tip-off from our members in Aurangabad and Sasaram in Bihar about a few containers carrying cattle to Bengal. We were surprised to find a large number of cattle in the truck,” said Verma.
“Ailing cattle from different parts of Bihar are sold to agents in Bengal and trafficked in such vehicles to be sent to Bangladesh,” said Verma.
(Additional reporting by Animesh Bisoee in Jamshedpur)