AMRITSAR, Aug, 26 — As a result of the crackdown on smuggling activities on the Indo Pakistan border, the police have detained 54 hardcore smugglers, out of the listed 80, operate in Ferozepur, Amritsar and Gurdaspur districts.

Of the 54 who have been detained, 21 have been booked under either the NSA or COFEPOSA.

The breakdown of these smugglers district wise is Ferozepur: wanted eight, arrested six (one under COFEPOSA); Amritsar: wanted 62, arrested 41 (15 under NSA and two under COFEPOSA); and Gurdaspur: wanted 10 and arrested seven (three under the NSA).

The Inspector General of Police (Border Range), Mr. Chaman Lal, said here yesterday that the “offensive” against the smugglers and the couriers was part of the “Punjab action plan” being executed to curb militant activities in the State, particularly in the three border districts.

The plan became effective after a series of meetings the Home Ministry had with grassroots officers earlier this year. Besides the crackdown on smuggling activities, other measures proposed in various stages of implementation include fencing of the border with Pakistan, raising of the BSF personnel strength for intensive policing, trifurcation of Amritsar into the smaller police districts of Tarn Taran, Majitha and, of course, Amritsar; bifurcation of Gurdaspur by creating Batala police district, setting up of special police officers (SPO) pickets and activating of home guards, besides inducting additional security forces and giving the personnel greater mobility, better arms and night vision devices.

Mr. Chaman Lal said that during the interrogation of these smugglers it had been fairly well established that there was a “link” between them and the militants who had used them as a conduit for the smuggling in of arms and ammunition, from across the border in addition to their usual activity of smuggling in gold and narcotics. It was also revealed that smugglers and certain financiers operating on either side of the border had either been “induced” or “threatened” to arrange arms for militants or “face the consequences.”

The police identified four smuggler gangs which had helped militant procure weapons, particularly AK47 Chinese rifles. The IG said one such gang was led by Kulwant Singh, alias Kanta, of Ferozepur, another by Inderjit Singh of Valtoha (Amritsar), Ravel Singh, alias Ravela, again of Ferozepore and Nihal Singh of Punia village, near Valtoha.

While Inderjit Singh confessed to having brought in three consignments, which were fairly large, Nihal Singh, a matriculate, said he took to this business because he could not get a job. Though he risked his life while making trips across the border, he did earn a “handsome profit” by smuggling in AK47s. Each assault rifle fetched him Rs 2,000 or more as profit.

Mr. Ghaman Lal said the big smugglers and even the financiers had remained by and large beyond the pale of law. Their lifestyles and the “respectability” gave the smugglers the benefit of the doubt under the law, whereas the brunt of the onslaught was borne by the poor couriers.

He gave a vivid description of the “imperfection” of the system and the “manipulative” power of the financiers, who had “friends” among the police, judiciary and bureaucrats.

With these smugglers and financiers having political linkages, Mr. Chaman Lal said one could not rule out an “unholy alliance” between unscrupulous politicians and them or between such people and civil servants. He, however, emphatically denied having encountered any political interference. ‘Petty politicians who did try and approach were brushed off.”

In fact, while planning a swoop down on known smugglers, it transpired that often the warrants issued against the smugglers remained unexecuted for “obvious reasons.” There were 25 such warrants but now only 10 or so remained.

Now the papers were being processed against three more smugglers (one in each district) and at least 11 others. Now the major concern of the police remains the couriers, who are the ones who invariably get caught or killed. They are the backbone.

These couriers are very loyal to their masters and work almost as slaves. Their interrogation is very difficult. There have been cases where some couriers betrayed their masters and were liquidated. What makes them loyal is the fact that the couriers “families are very well looked after by the smugglers, who give handsome financial help, which is better than the governmental sponsored family welfare pension scheme.

The study also reveals that the couriers are either landless people or marginal farmers, who find it difficult to make a living from their pocket sized holdings. They come from poor socioeconomic strata and live below the poverty line and are uneducated. Smuggling has become their “family trait.”

A jacket of gold biscuits, for example, fetches a courier Rs 1,000 per successful trip. A jacket has 100 biscuits. It weighs, approximately 11,660 kg starting from say South Africa or Dubai. It fetches for the real fancier or the boss Rs 10 lakh, if safely delivered. Smugglers here or in Delhi get Rs 10,000. Each gold haul by the enforcement agencies means nothing to the smuggling kings because the “gold is totally insured.”

It is the courier who takes the maximum risk and minimum profit. The police has the lists of financiers operating in India, but is helpless in touching them, “Their money power and well-oiled machinery wields more influence than the law, perhaps”, admitted Mr. Chaman Lal.

Article extracted from this publication >> September 9, 1988