Indian security agencies are taking no chances following the July 1-2 Dhaka terror attack that left 20 people killed including an Indian teenager.
On July 4, the Border Security Force (BSF) of North Bengal Frontier tightened patrolling along the India-Bangladesh border both on land and water.
Speedboats and country-made boats are being used by the troops to patrol the riverine areas between Bangladesh and India. A senior BSF official said that 199 Border out Post (BOP) along the Indo-Bangladesh border near Mekhligunj in Cooochbehar district of West Bengal are on a constant vigil.
The BSF is doing the same thing in every single state that shares a border with Bangladesh.
On Saturday, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called for increased vigil in the North 24 Parganas district of her state. (I will explain why later in this post.)
The border with Bangladesh
India and Bangladesh share a 4,096-kilometre-long international border, which is the fifth-longest land border in the world.
There are around 85,000 BSF troopers manning the border with Bangladesh, yet illegal immigrants continue to enter India from the neighbouring country.
This article shall not wade into the political debate but this illegal immigrant told Al Jazeera that he managed to buy land in India using forged documents. He arrived here – like scores of others – with the help of dalals (agents) clearly indicating that there is a well-organised network of traffickers who help these illegal immigrants.
So, it is possible for a Bangladeshi immigrant with very malicious intentions enter India and find help in our country’s corrupt system.
But how will anyone enter India?
The biggest problem is that much of the border India shares with Bangladesh is porous, which means that anyone can simply hop, skip or paddle in and out of India from any of those perforated areas.
Besides the unfenced land borders along the India-Bangladesh border, there are many riverine areas. Three of them are in West Bengal – the Mahananda, the Teesta and the Ichamati rivers. The other major riverine stretch is along the Brahmaputra river in Assam.
In fact the Ichamati River becomes the Indo-Bangladesh border from Soldana – six kilometers from Basirhat in West Bengal – passing through the Sundarbans and all the way down to the Bay of Bengal.
That is over 100 kilometers.
Bangladeshis who wish to enter India illegally attempt to cross the Ichamati river during the immersion procession of Durga idols after the completion of the 10-day long festival in India. This is why the BSF intensifies its patrolling of this stretch during the festival season.
But the river remains a crossover point for illegal immigrants throughout the year. Besides boats, a good swimmer can swim across the river at certain places and reach India.
The scene along both sides of the India Bangladesh border at Ichamati River during Durga Puja. PhotoDivision
The Ichamati falls in the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, which is why Mamata Banerjee asked for heightened security measures in this area warning the district administration of infiltration.
It is very important to patrol the riverine stretches along the India-Bangladesh border because illegal immigrants can cross them on boats into India or out of it.
But blocking entire stretches of riverine areas is not an easy task. Even the US government has not been able to contain illegal immigrants from Mexico crossing the Rio Grande river that forms part of the US-Mexico border.
Yet laser walls, like the ones BSF is planning to install in the riverine stretches along the Indo-Pak border, could be a solution.
What about the land borders?
Though fencing of the land borders has been on for the last few years, there is still a long stretch yet to be fenced. In December 2014, MoS Home Kiren Rijiju told the Rajya Sabha that there are 783 porous stretches along the Indo-Bangladesh border.
In January 2016 Home Minister Rajnath Singh had admitted that much of the fencing of 263-km-long border that Assam shares with Bangladesh is incomplete.
He assured that the fencing will be over by the end of this year. In fact, soon after assuming office as the new Chief Minister of Assam, Sarbananda Sonowal too made sealing of the Assam’s stretch of the India-Bangladesh border a priority.
A BSF jawan stands guard along an unfenced border with Bangladesh.
While the new leadership in Assam might as well move swiftly, things are a bit complicated in West Bengal.
In January 2016, the BSF wrote to the Home Ministry requesting them to help obtain land to complete the fencing along the Bengal stretch. Acquisition of land is a State subject and according to reports the West Bengal government repeatedly ignored the BSF’s demand for land for fencing.
Yet fencing too is often unable to keep cattle smugglers and other traffickers from illegally entering or exiting India. At times, the Bangladeshi immigrants risk their lives and jump over a wall or barbed wire to enter India. Many of them want to escape poverty at home, which is of course a concern, but there are some who arrive with malicious intent.
Fencing the entire Indo-Bangladesh border is now very, very important. Since Bangladesh has degenerated into a State where Islamists are calling the shots, the flames there are bound to singe India.
To protect herself, India must wear a suit of armour. Sealing the border with fence, floodlights, laser walls and motion detectors besides continuous patrolling will at least serve as a shield.