Illegal movement of people, drugs and gold through West Bengal border is causing serious concern to law enforcing agencies of both India and Bangladesh.

On Monday, two women ― Rina Saha and Tania Biswas ― apparently from North-24 Parganas in West Bengal, were apprehended by law enforcers from Kolkata airport. They were headed to Jakarta on Indian passports.

Human trafficking

Preliminary enquiries reveal both are Rohingyas (Arakanese Muslims), named Ruksana Akhter and Taslima. They entered India through Ghojadanga border in 2014 on Bangladeshi passports and later managed to obtain Indian passports.

This is not the first time Rohingyas have been found to be in possession of Indian passports. In March 2019, two Rohingya women were apprehended at Kolkata airport before they could fly to Kuala Lumpur. Both had come from Bangladesh and had later obtained Indian passports.

In February 2019, seven Rohingyas were caught at Bengaluru airport on way to Malaysia. Some of the group members obtained Indian passports from West Bengal. The rest managed it from Hyderabad. But, all had entered India with Bangladeshi passports through West Bengal.

Fake passport racket

What makes it a case of common concern for both India and Bangladesh is that Rohingyas managed to fake all necessary papers to illegally obtain passports of both countries. Sources say such passports cost Taka 6,000 in Bangladesh and ₹10,000 to ₹20,000 in India.

Many of these Indian passports are fake, issued against originals which were reported lost particularly from destinations in the Middle East.

Sources confirm the existence of agencies that take unsuspecting Indian labourers to the Middle East, withhold their passports to fake loss and help them obtain fresh passports issued by the Indian embassies. A second passport is issued on a different name keeping other particulars unchanged for trafficking purposes.

Sources say Kolkata is a major centre for issue of such passports, along with Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Patna and Hyderabad. Kolkata is a prominent trafficking route. To alley suspicions and for better connectivity, foreign travel is routed through airports like Chandigarh.

Drug trafficking

Apart from human trafficking, movement of drugs – particularly ‘meth’ (methamphetamine) and gold – are rampant on West Bengal border.

Meth tablets, popularly referred to as Yaba, and other such varieties, come from Myanmar. It has huge demand in Bangladesh, where socio-legal and religious prohibition restrict consumption of liquor.

In the past, these drugs used to reach Bangladesh through Rakhine (which shares its border with Bangladesh) and Mizoram which shares its border with Chittagong. Part of it was also directed through Tripura.

In a recent development, both India and Bangladesh sealed the conventional routes. According to sources, drugs are now moving through land routes to West Bengal, via the North-East for further delivery to Bangladesh.

There have been huge seizures of drugs on the Indo-Bangladesh border through North-24 Parganas, Nadia, Malda and Murshidabad districts, in recent months.

Round-tripping of gold

While trafficking of gold bars through Bangladesh to Kolkata was known, sources suggest the existence of reverse movement of gold ornaments from Kolkata to Bangladesh.

The movement is quasi legal. While bars are smuggled into India, the reverse movement in the form of ornaments takes a legal route. Handlers employ large numbers of women couriers, who cross the border legally. They take advantage of the legal concessions on women to carry jewellery on their persons.

The nature of movement indicates round-tripping of wealth. Rich Bangladeshis who siphoned off money to foreign destinations might be taking it back home as legal possession.