What is the nefarious purpose behind the camel smuggling networks on India's borders? Maneka Gandhi offers answers
If the BSF can only fill up half its camel contingent then what will happen in the next five years.
By Maneka Gandhi
In 1965 after the first Indo-Pakistan war, when the Pakistan Army gained ingress to the Rann of Kutch, the Indian government decided to raise a paramilitary force called the Border Security Force (BSF). Their mandate, to guard India's land border during peace time and prevent transnational crime. The BSF is under the administrative control of Ministry of Home Affairs and is the world's largest border guarding force.
Our borders with Pakistan have different kinds of terrain. Kutch in Gujarat is full of creeks which give way to dunes. Jammu and Kashmir has a mountainous terrain. In the east the Sunderbans in Bengal and the Brahmaputra in Assam make it a riverine border. Each needed appropriate transport. Boats in the east, horses in Kashmir and camels for Rajasthan.
In Rajasthan, in the Shahgarh bulge for instance, there are sand dunes 30 feet high for miles on end, that can only be traversed on camels. In summer the temperature touches 50 degrees centigrade. In the troughs between sand dunes, small trees and water are available in narrow wells. Most of the area has shifting sand dunes with small thorny bushes. Today the BSF camels are deployed along the western frontiers of Rajasthan and Gujarat – a border that is about 1,040 km. The main sectors are Jaisalmer, Barmer, Bikaner and Gandhinagar. The BSF doesn’t just fight wars and repel intruders. There are continual attempts to smuggle goods like arms and drugs both ways on this border. A single camel travels four to five kilometres per day.
No camels are bred by the BSF or any government agency. They are totally dependent on buying five- to eight-year-old animals from fairs and villagers. They are kept in quarantine for 21 days and then vaccinated for Surra disease. They are then trained at the Subsidiary Training Centre (STC), Jodhpur. Camels being tall, allow their riders to look at long distances. They can run in both sand and marshy land and are easy to manoeuvre. They have great endurance and a strong sense of direction which makes them ideal during dust storms and night patrols.
The camel is vital to the BSF and to the country’s defence. The animals are not just used for riding on active patrol. They carry food to the troops stationed on the border. They deliver supplies, mail, gas cylinders, and medicines. They go where no vehicles can, because the latter get stuck in the loose and shifting sands. They play key roles in performing operational duty both in the desert area and the marshes of Kutch. The 700-km border between Kutch and Sindh alone is teeming with criminal activity. The BSF also organises camel safaris where they take the local people along the border and explain to them the effect of trans-border crime. This has resulted in a lot of local support from villages in these areas.
Smugglers and other intruders are chased and often caught with our men on camel-back. When the earthquake devastated Gujarat in 2001, men on camels were the first to reach the area. The BSF uses each camel for 16 years and then they are auctioned.
Alarm bells have started ringing in the BSF and home ministry. Because of the enormous smuggling of camels in the last ten years there are very few animals left to buy. The head of the camel division says that they have become more expensive to buy. The male population has decreased enormously and there are very few young fit camels left. The BSF needs 1,276 camels. They have only 531.
The Rajasthan government has banned the camel from being taken outside its borders. But every single day a truck with a minimum of 16 camels is smuggled out. All the smuggling is being done by a gang from Baghpat and they depend on policemen in Rajasthan and Haryana to help their trade. I know one thana head in Hansi who has helped scores of camels go through from Haryana to Uttar Pradesh. They also know quite a few judges and when the camels are caught, as they regularly are, they are released to these “poor farmers” the very next day.
Where do these “poor farmers” get the money to buy hundreds of camels per month? Each camel is now worth over a lakh and the price rises as they disappear. Who could be funding them? Hundreds go to Bangladesh. Hundreds are killed in Baghpat, Meerut and Hyderabad. Dozens come to Mewat, a criminal, anti-national belt near Delhi, and are killed there. One week we found 200 camels slaughtered in a graveyard, their dead bodies simply lying there.
Is this just for the meat? If so why did those dead 200 just lie there? Why do they come to Delhi and to be slaughtered and thrown into nullahs? Camel meat is smelly, dry, hard, sinewy and very difficult to eat and digest. It needs much more cooking time. So it could not have become a great favourite. And yet the smuggling is now so rampant that from 10 lakh camels or more at the turn of this century, there are less than 40,000 left.
International agencies have formally declared the Indian camel an endangered species.
Or is it a larger design by a hostile foreign power that is using its people in our country to systematically weaken our defences so that they can enter our country easily? If the BSF can only fill up half its camel contingent then what will happen in the next five years. Calculate at the rate of 50 a day — which is what I estimate the smuggling to be — since my organisation alone has caught more than 1,000 this year (and had to return many of them through certain judges in Haryana and Delhi to these criminals). I believe that this is a planned and insidious attack on India’s defence forces.
On 9 April 1965 Pakistan attacked Sardar Post, Chhar Bet and Beria Bet in Kutch. We were caught unprepared. Is this border being weakened by our neighbours? And are we going to think of it simply as an animal issue and not see the larger picture? What are the Rajasthan and Haryana governments doing to protect the camels and us?
(The author is Union Minister for Women and Child Development.)
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