Cattle Smuggling

As of March 2015, a total ban on slaughter of cow and its progeny (cow, calf, bull, bullock) exists in the states of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Chattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkand, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakand, Rajasthan, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir.

Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Goa, Odisha and Tamil Nadu have banned cow slaughter too, but permit bulls and bullocks to be killed if they are certified as “fit for slaughter”.

However, no ban exists in the north-eastern states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura, as also in Sikkim and West Bengal. Kerala falls in this category albeit cow progeny under 10 years can not be killed in the state.

Implementation (rather non-implementation) of the law where bans exist, is of course the bottom line, and is of grave concern. Unfortunately, the varied bans on slaughter of cattle in India do not cover buffalo whose meat/beef is internationally called carabeef and is legally exported.


The illegal movement of cattle consisting of only cow and its progeny (no buffaloes) via land and water from India to Bangladesh is an old standing problem that has been going from bad to worse.

Cattle-smuggling is flourishing, particularly from Assam and West Bengal, so much so, that beef processing and leather units have been established along the border in Bangladesh. Some estimates have put the annual turnover from leather and meat of cattle smuggled from India to Bangladesh at over Rs 25 billion. (A footwear manufacturer stated that there was no duty on importing leather into India and that better quality leather could be brought in from Bosnia, Italy, Taiwan – and Bangladesh: ironically the leather of cattle smuggled from India.)

The first step to help such cattle would be to stop them entering states adjoining Bangladesh, thereby halting them from being smuggled out.

Cattle are mainly transported in railway wagons to Uttar Pradesh from Rajasthan, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh. From Uttar Pradesh they proceed to Bihar, and continue on to West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya and Tripura.

BWC feels this inter-state movement of cattle should be stopped and has therefore written in detail to several Chief Ministers and the Union Ministers for Home Affairs and for Railways, requesting action. In a welcome move the UP state government in January 2015 amended their Gangster Act to make cow slaughter, illegal abattoirs and smuggling criminal offences that would attract serious penal action – BWC is awaiting strict implementation of this law.

Animals from adjoining states that land up in Assam and West Bengal are the ones that are mainly smuggled out of India. BWC has also particularly requested the Chief Ministers of both these states to stop the entry of cattle and to step up security along the Bangladesh border.

The Meghalaya government imposed section 144 CrPC on the movement of cattle along with Indo-Bangladesh border which may have curtailed the smuggling from that section of the Indo-Bangladesh border.

In June 2009, while standing at a shop near Bolpur Station (Shantiniketan) one of our BWC members saw a lorry jam-packed on all three levels, with calves tied to each other. She was told that they would be thrown into the River Ganga and forced to swim across to Bangladesh where they would be slaughtered. She said that although the local people were sympathetic, it seemed that the police were in league with the smugglers who are patronised by politicians.

Different modes of smuggling via land and sea are used. Some animals are piled in boats whereas others are injected with a drug called Diclofenac Sodium which energises them to walk fast and makes them restless enough to run fast through the fence where there are gaps.

Border guards are well aware of the smuggling and that it is most rampant in river-dominated stretches of northern West Bengal and western Assam’s Dhubri district. Cattle are seized by them, nevertheless the illegal trade continues to flourish.

In 2011 Beauty Without Cruelty congratulated the Union Ministry of Home Affairs and the Border Security Force for their vigilance in seizing thousands of cattle daily on the India-Bangladesh border. We believe our frequent requests to crack down on the cattle smuggling bore a little fruit, but unfortunately smuggling of cattle, said to be closely linked to other illegal trades with cattle being used as currency, was not decreasing because tanneries and abattoirs were mushrooming along the Bangladeshi border.

The Government of Bangladesh proposed legalising the smuggling of cattle. On knowing this, Beauty Without Cruelty immediately informed the Government of India that if it is legalised by India, it is bound to aid big smugglers – many reports had stated that the activity was linked to smuggling of other items including arms, ammunition, and for funding terrorism.

In August 2011, a comprehensive border management agreement was signed by India and Bangladesh. After having settled vexing boundary issues, it was hoped that border incidents would be greatly reduced. However, illegal infiltration (into Assam causing grave problems) rose to such an extent that a year later the Opposition demanded in the Rajya Sabha that immediate steps be taken to complete fencing along India’s border with Bangladesh, particularly 50 kms which had been deliberately kept unfenced.

Beauty Without Cruelty discovered that camels were also smuggled to Bangladesh for slaughter on Bakri Idd 2012. But cows topped the smugglers’ list. BWC again wrote to the Ministry of Home Affairs drawing their attention to an informative article from The Indian Express (October 23, 2012) entitled “Cattle go easily across the border fence, easer for smugglers where there’s none” parts of which is reproduced below:

“Well past midnight, the handheld thermal image camera fitted in the BSF watchtower records a sudden movement across the barbed-wire fence on the Bangladesh border some 50 metres away. A group of people from the Bangladesh side, the recording shows, first sends out a boy close to the border to find out whether the BSF on the Indian side is alert. The BSF jawans lie still. The boy waves his hand, and a group of about 10 rushes towards the fence. Within seconds, they set up an improvised bamboo crane on their side and lower the other end across the fence into India. The camera pans right. Another group rushes towards the fence from the Indian side with about a dozen heads of cattle, tied with ropes. One by one, the animals are hung to the improvised bamboo crane and sent across to the Bangladesh side; ferrying each one takes only six or seven seconds.

“Cattle smuggling is one crime difficult to contain even after erecting a barbed-wire fence along the boundary… Cooch Behar and Falakata sectors have together seized as many as 11,840 cattle-heads till October 2011 when the two sectors were bifurcated. Between October 2011 and September 2012 seized 6,562 cattle in the Cooch Behar sector alone.

“Going by the manner criminals on both sides have been innovating, these figures could be just a small fraction of the total number of cattle smuggled out to Bangladesh. The reason is that of the 361.75 km international border that the BSF’s Cooch Behar and Falakata sectors together handle, only 197 km is fenced.

“There are several reasons for nearly 165 km remaining unfenced: a river border, objections by Bangladesh on some stretches, the presence of Indian villages right on the zero line, enclaves with narrow strips (chicken necks) linking them to their respective countries, and Bangladeshi enclaves within Indian territory with no link to that country.”

In December 2012 the outgoing BSF chief suggested that the Government of India should seriously think about legalising cattle trade with Bangladesh because it was not a problem that could be solved by policing. The Rs 2000 crore industry in Bangladesh has made it very difficult for the BSF and human lives were at stake. Even when intruders from Bangladesh were shot dead, smugglers did not hesitate to attack BSF men. Therefore, BWC has again written to the new Union Minister of Home Affairs and also to the Director General, Sashastra Seema Bal.

In June 2013, Hindustan Times (Kolkata) printed an article focusing on how cattle get to the Indo-Bangladesh border. They are even stolen (in Meerut and Muzaffarnagar farmers stay awake guarding their cattle at night) and despatched in trucks from Uttar Pradesh. It has led to human death too like in the case of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s cow protection chief getting killed in August 2014 at Meerut over a straying calf. Lifting cows off the Delhi roads at night is becoming a common criminal act. Every time a truck is caught, the police receive a phone call from some politician to release it. The illegal activity is lucrative since it generates more than Rs 10,000 crore a year in UP, and an estimated Rs 5,000 crore in West Bengal from where they are smuggled. A not fully fenced, porous and river border between the two countries, as also thick vegetation, aids smugglers.

The Observer Research Foundation’s report released soon after said that approximately 20,000 to 25,000 heads of cattle worth $81,000 were smuggled every day from India to Bangladesh i.e. annually 90 lakh, worth $29 million. The research also stated that every third head of cattle killed in Bangladesh was from India.

Cattle valued no more than Rs 3,000/- in India, can fetch smugglers as much as Rs 40,000/- on the Indo-Bangladesh border. It is big money on both sides (even if the notes are fake!) because the Bangladeshi can legally turn trader by paying Customs Duty of Taka 500/- (Rs 394/-) after declaring that he found the animal “roaming near the border”. Meat is sold locally, skin processed into leather goods and bones converted to bone china. Bangladesh exports leather worth nearly $ 1 billion and bone china worth $ 30.78 million.

In October 2013 The Daily Star (the No 1 English newspaper of Bangladesh) carried an article entitled “Celebrating Sacrifice” which revealed that of the 10 million cows that came from India each year, 4 million were around Bakri Eid.

In January 2015, a BSF jawan was killed during crossfire with cattle smugglers, said to be as many as 150 and armed with weapons and bamboo sticks, at the Bongaon border outpost in North 24 Parganas. A smuggler was also hit by a bullet. Following the incident a flag meeting was held between the countries where India lodged a protest. (Incidentally, a few months later in April 2015 when an elephant strayed across the border, the Bangladesh Border Guards pumped 34 bullets into it.)

The problem was after BSF’s 2011 decision not to shoot cattle smugglers on the border that the men had to face more and more physical attacks. The smugglers came in hundreds and attacked them with sickles, batons and firearms, and even threw stones. Despite this, the BSF continued to seize about Rs 4-5 crore worth of cattle. Ironically, the animals were bought back by the smugglers in the customs department’s auction – quite frankly a smuggler did not suffer a loss by buying back the same animal several times over because it fetched him ten times the value when smuggled into Bangladesh.

Eventually, in March 2015 the Union Minister for Home Affairs asked the BSF to use their discretionary powers when ever it came to using weapons (after all they could no longer not be expected to shoot in self-defence when attacked) and go all out to stop cattle smuggling into Bangladesh so that people in that country give up eating beef – as things stood the price of beef in Bangladesh had gone up by 30% due to an intensified vigil. A three-pronged strategy was laid out by the BSF: to arrest and follow up with criminal cases; to put up check-posts at second and third tiers to prevent movement near the border; and increase man power.

Soon after in mid-April 2015, in response to the Akil Bharat Go-Seva Sangh’s PIL (Public Interest Litigation), the Supreme Court issued a notice to the Centre to take steps to prevent the smuggling of cattle to Bangladesh. Notices were also issued to the state governments of Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradehs, Bihar, Haryana, Odisha, Assam, Tripura, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, asking them to take steps to check the illegal transportation of cattle to West Bengal from where they were further smuggled in to Bangadesh. The PIL also sought the court’s directions to the Customs and BSF not to auction the seized cattle, but to hand them over to gaushalas and panjrapoles. (BWC had informed the petitioners the importance of cattle not being auctioned.) A month later the BSF claimed a 90% drop in smuggling due to preventive measures bearing fruit: with fences in ruins deep trenches were dug and iron pipes were welded to existing fences to prevent cattle from crossing over. BSF also launched a pilot project with the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) to build non-corrodible infinite aluminium fences in riverine areas of Gojardanga in North 24 Parganas. BWC greatly appreciates the efforts of the BSF even though unfortunately there was a section among them who still felt that in order to stop smuggling, trade in cattle should be legalised between India and Bangladesh. However, other BSF personnel were found to be happily calling themselves the CSF meaning the Cattle Security Force!

Meanwhile, the Government of India issued a Notification which can be read here. The rules come into force on 1 January 2016 and are called the Central Motor Vehicle (Eleventh Amendment) Rules, 2015. The amendment No. 125E will pertain to special requirements of motor vehicles transporting livestock to be in accordance with specifications laid down by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). Several organisations working for animals, including Beauty Without Cruelty, demanded such an amendment to prevent overcrowding of animals in trucks and the terrible suffering that accompanies it. Vehicles carrying cattle, horses & mares, sheep & goats, pigs and poultry, would soon be required to obtain special licences with will be issued by the Regional Transport Office (RTO) after vehicles are modified with permanent partitions in appropriate species-specific sizes (2 square metres per cow or buffalo) within which individual animals will be loaded and transported. The vehicles will not be permitted to carry any other goods. BWC has suggested to the government that a special squad involving the Police, the RTO, and other authorities, should effectively monitor, check and apprehend those who violate this law. We sincerely hope this amendment will curtail the inter-state movement of cattle – and thus smuggling across the border.

Amid this, in November 2015 considerably less cows, bulls and calves turned up at the annual Pushkar fair (near Ajmer, Rajasthan) and sales were down by 94% to 452 from over 4,000 four years ago. People were scared undertaking trade leading to slaughter, which only goes to prove that this is what used to happen. Earlier in the month, no sale of cattle was allowed at the annual Chaubari animal fair/mela (near Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh) because of reports that bullocks were bought by cattle smugglers (resulting in illegal slaughter) posing a farmers.

As stated above in 2015 the Border Security Force personnel began calling themselves Cattle Security Force in view of the hard work they had put in to stop live cattle from infiltrating into Bangladesh. But, smuggling cattle from across India via West Bengal into Bangladesh had by 2023 become big business again: an animal costs between Rs 25,000 to 30,000, add Rs 15,000 towards transportation and bribes across the border the animal fetches Rs 70,000 to 80,000. The last lap is upstream with cattle runners latching onto their tails.

However, the good news was that in 2023 coming down heavily on 4 cattle owners who were transporting buffaloes in cramped trucks in violation of norms, the Nagpur Bench of the Bombay High Court observed that the animals too had emotions, feelings and senses similar to a human being. Justice Govinda Sanap said “The only difference is that the animals cannot speak. Therefore, though their rights are recognised under the law, they cannot assert the same. The rights of the animals, their welfare and protection have to be taken care of by the concerned in accordance with law.” The Judge dismissed the case of cattle owners seeking interim custody for their buffaloes from the Gittikhadan police saying “The buffaloes were cramped in the vehicles, which were not fitted with padding. There was no provision of water and fodder... It is, therefore, seen that the buffaloes were transported in a very cruel condition.” Earlier in April 2022 the cattle owners had filed a case in the Judicial Magistrate First Class court for getting back the custody of the buffaloes but it was rejected, just as it was again rejected in June 2023.

By 2023 smuggling cattle across India via West Bengal into Bangladesh became big business again. An animal costs between Rs 25,000/- to Rs 30,000/-, add Rs 15,000/- towards transportation and bribes; across the border the animal fetches Rs 70,000/- to Rs 80,000/-. The last lap is usually upstream with cattle runners latching onto their tails.

In January 2024, a BGB (Border Guard Bangladesh) who was not in uniform but wearing a T-shirt and lungi was shot at by a BSF jawan in a bid to foil 4 or 5 cattle being smuggled out from West Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district near the Sutia outpost at 4 am. The BSF jawan fired in self-defence when the smugglers surrounded him and attacked him with sharp sickles. Taking advantage of the fog the smugglers escaped leaving their injured BGB friend behind who was taken to hospital but died. The BSF said this was not the first time they had been attacked by cattle smugglers but the involvement of the BGB was a serious issue so much so that BWC felt we wrote to the Union Minister of External Affairs and requested him to take up the matter.

Cattle may not be smuggled via land after the total length (across Assam, Tripura, Mizoram, Meghalaya and West Bengal) of the Indo-Bangladesh border or Radcliffe Line of 4,096.7 kms is covered by barriers, both physical fencing and non-physical (comprising of technological solutions), hopefully by 2025 since up to end 2023 only about 3,180 kms had been completed.

Cattle slaughter is wrong, cattle smuggling for slaughter is worse. We need to raise our voice and let those in power know we want to save India’s cattle from being turned into meat and leather in Bangladesh.

Page last updated on 18/03/24