Home / Politics / Policy /  Fake currency trade flourishes on West Bengal border

Kolkata: Unfazed by stepped up vigilance, so-called couriers continue to smuggle in fake currency notes into West Bengal from across its porous border with Bangladesh, even as India’s top security agencies scour the state’s districts in a hunt for terror modules following a blast in a Muslim home near Burdwan town early this month.

Even border guards were taken by surprise when in the middle of tight security some 10 days ago, three teenagers were caught trying to ferry in 2 lakh in fake currency notes in Malda district.

This illegal trade is the financial lifeblood of terror modules in India, said a top intelligence official of the Border Security Force (BSF), asking not to be identified. The key figures behind it couldn’t care about the ongoing probe in West Bengal by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) and National Security Guard (NSG)—the federal agencies tasked with combating terrorism.

“Such is their compulsion that they don’t have a choice," said the BSF official. “Whatever it takes, they must keep fake notes flowing into India."

In the past 10 months alone, the agency has seized 92 lakh in counterfeit notes, compared with 84 lakh in the whole of 2013, most of it said to be printed in Pakistan and routed through Bangladesh. The jump is worrisome, considering that much more gushes in than is intercepted by border guards.

“Nothing has changed." The 2 October blast in Burdwan has only exposed West Bengal’s inherent vulnerability to cross-border terrorism, said a state intelligence branch (IB) official, requesting anonymity.

Not surprisingly, the heads of all key central agencies are now turning up in Kolkata to take a closer look at the menace, which went unnoticed for at least a year for want of “actionable intelligence", as a top West Bengal government official in the home department put it. This person too asked not to be named.

NIA director general Sharad Kumar came to Kolkata on Friday to take stock of the ongoing investigation by his agency. The national security adviser Ajit Doval, NSG chief J.N. Choudhury and other top central intelligence officers are to arrive on Monday. According to news reports, they will seek the state government’s support in addressing the situation.

The West Bengal government doesn’t seem to be enjoying this attention. Though chief minister Mamata Banerjee has said she isn’t opposed to the ongoing probe into the Burdwan blast by the NIA and NSG, her police officers were initially reluctant to hand over the investigation to the central agencies.

Initially at least, the state hadn’t even pressed charges against the blast survivors under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act—the norm now in dealing with suspected terrorists.

Even the explosives recovered from the blast site were destroyed in haste, which is now widely seen as reflecting the administration’s refusal to acknowledge the implications of the blast. Two people were killed and another was seriously injured in the blast—people who are alleged to have been making the explosives.

There were inputs from the Centre and from West Bengal’s own intelligence officials that extremists from Bangladesh have been looking to move to West Bengal and use the state as a base ever since a civil society movement began gathering momentum in February 2013 demanding tougher sentences against those convicted of war crimes in 1971—mostly fundamentalist Muslim leaders.

As Dhaka launched a crackdown to defuse the tension, several extremist leaders fled Bangladesh.

Asked why the state police had failed to act on the intelligence input, the state IB official declined to comment.

“There was no actionable input at any point in time…only vague warnings from time to time; similar to, say, weather forecast of light showers here and there," said the home department official.

In the wake of the 2 October blast, however, the central IB has issued so-called look-out notices against several leaders with not-so-clear photographs describing them as “fugitives from Bangladesh". Mint has reviewed some of these confidential notices circulated within the central and state police machinery.

Though the 2,200-km border with Bangladesh runs through several districts of West Bengal, three of them—Malda, Murshidabad and North Dinajpur—are most vulnerable, according to the BSF official cited above. The agency’s key focus now is to intercept and seize fake currency, but this task is becoming increasingly difficult because more and more “nimble-footed" teenagers are being recruited as couriers.

They typically work in small groups and receive Rs200-800 each, depending on the size of the consignment, according to the BSF official.

The pay doesn’t justify risking lives, but such are the social and economic conditions in these districts that finding new recruits isn’t a challenge.

And because they are mostly minors, they are tried, if caught, under the Juvenile Justice Act and get away easily because the state doesn’t take much interest in pursuing these cases, the BSF official alleged. “The BSF files the FIR (first information report) and hands them over to the state administration for trial," he added.

The blast blew the lid off weaknesses in administration —especially the fact that the West Bengal IB and police had little information on people moving into West Bengal.

At least three state officials, including a police officer, in key positions in district-level administration, said there is no practice in West Bengal of keeping a watch on people setting up homes in rented properties.

All of them asked not to be identified.

There is no question of asking settlers for proof of identity, said an official in Birbhum district that neighbours Burdwan. One of those said to be on the run following the blast hailed from Kirnahar in Birbhum.

“This district has a Muslim population of at least 30% and they are to be dealt with sensitively," this person said, referring to Birbhum. “Stepping up vigilance against a particular community would have been seen as profiling and wouldn’t have got any political support."

The head of police in a district affected by the blast said though there was some intelligence input from the state IB towards the end of 2013, there was no time to pursue them in view of the general election earlier this year.

However, all three district officials said that the incident had created grounds to tighten the guard against infiltrators—a job that the BSF alone cannot accomplish.

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