The first bovine Enamul Haque smuggled to Bangladesh was a calf. In the summer of 1994 he carried the animal in his arms and walked across the border into a village in Bangladesh in broad daylight.
A frail figure then, Haque was not checked or stopped by anyone, earned Rs 3,000 and did not share the spoils. It was his first income, a cent per cent profit — he had stolen the calf from an Indian village. Haque was testing the waters, he had heard from his neighbours how cow smuggling was lucrative and buyers wanted more supplies.
This was a new business; Haque had started his career as a rider of fake currency and gold bars. He picked up bundles of fake Indian currency and gold bars from Bangladeshi smugglers and handed them over to passengers from Murshidabad heading for Kolkata.
This continued for a decade, and around 2004, Haque slowly shifted to cattle smuggling. He had observed the trade up close and groomed himself by mingling with cow smugglers. The ones in the trade were rustic; Haque brought finesse in the business by presenting himself as a messiah of the poor. He routinely shared tea with BSF soldiers, politicians and helped locals by building clubs, funding soccer tournaments, Durga Puja and Eid festivities. In a decade — around 2014 — Haque had made his presence felt all over the Bangladesh border in Bengal.
The law catches up
A quarter century after he started on this path, Haque was arrested by officers of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) in Delhi, in November 2020. Haque described himself as an upstanding citizen, not the Butch Cassidy of the Bengal-Bangladesh border, who roamed like a warlord and ran a billion-dollar racket smuggling cows.
When he was arrested a couple of months ago, Haque was on bail. He had been arrested in March 2018 for allegedly bribing Jibu T Mathew, a commandant of the Border Security Force (BSF). Mathew was arrested by the CBI in January 2018 at Alappuzha railway station with Rs 47 lakh in cash. The cash was disproportionate to his income and Mathew confessed to the CBI that Haque paid the cash as a bribe for smuggling cows to Bangladesh. The CBI then registered an FIR in which Haque and the BSF at large were indicted.
Haque was taken to a hospital in Gurgaon soon after his arrest in 2020. Haque knew how to handle cops, he had managed bail four months after his arrest in March 2018 by furnishing a bond because he — like all hardened criminals — complained of chest pain. Doctors treating him at the undisclosed hospital told the CBI that Haque’s blood pressure had shot up, and he was administered some sedatives. Six cops guarded Haque round the clock.
The CBI knew Haque had often outsmarted the West Bengal Police using trickery and returned to the border to celebrate his success in sending herds of cows to Bangladesh with local villagers. When he secured bail from the 2018 arrest, he went to the border and gathered villagers for food and sweets. He told his agents that the next consignment would reap more money.
Across villages, Haque was called Moner Manush, which translates into Ideal Person. He never walked alone. Those who knew him in Bengal recollect that when he walked through the villages, people would come out of their homes to meet him. Like a modern-day Robin Hood, Haque would listen to their woes, ranging from unpaid school fees to cash for a daughter’s wedding. His men took notes and then returned to distribute cash.
Outwitting the BSF
For years, Haque was responsible for smuggling and also for selling cows confiscated at the border by the BSF. First, Haque would try to smuggle the animals by marking them with special numbers. When some of the animals were caught by the BSF and brought to the BSF cattle shed, Haque would hawk the animals in auctions organised by the BSF. His men would purchase the cattle and send the animals across the border in the dead of the night. It was a strange cycle.
BSF soldiers tried hard to arrest Haque with cattle meant for smuggling. But someone within always leaked the news. Haque and his men often spent hours hiding in trees close to the border even as soldiers of the BSF made unsuccessful attempts to track down the gang. Sometimes Haque, claim sources in the CBI, would hide in brothels and seek amnesty from local politicians.
Such was his popularity in villages close to the Bangladesh border that Haque and his men were warned by women banging utensils of the impending arrival of BSF soldiers so that the smugglers could slip into homes to avoid being caught. Sometimes, a clifftop vantage point was used by the smugglers to signal each other under the cover of darkness using lanterns or small fires.
Haque used to mark his cattle using black paint. These were numbers: 5, 7, 9 and 1. He often told his men that the job would bring in loads of cash but their days would always be numbered and when raids took place, all they could do was flee.
Haque was considered the biggest innovator of the smuggling business across the border. During the rainy season, his men would use trunks of banana trees to push cattle across the river separating the two nations. Once pushed into the rivers during the night, Bangladeshi cattle smugglers in speed boats capture these animals. Sometimes, Haque’s men would split open the abdomen of dead cattle and fill them with bottles of cough syrup, packets of kerosene and rice.
“On an average, Haque sent over 5,000 cattle heads across the border every day, five days a week. His agents would mostly work under cover of darkness,” says Dipanjan Chakravarty, a former member of the National Security Guard (NSG), who once conducted secret operations in Bengal.
Haque worked closely with his operatives in Bangladesh. He would charge Rs 50,000 for full-grown cattle, and Rs 15,000 for calves. He would keep three-fourths of the cash for himself and distribute the rest among corrupt BSF soldiers and local politicians. The price of cattle hovers between Bangladeshi Taka 60,000-150,000 on crossing the border into Bangladesh. (1 Indian Rupee is about 1.16 Taka.)
“He worked very closely with Hundi Qadeer, a notorious Bangladeshi smuggler dealing in gold bars and fake currency. Haque would send cattle and help his counterparts, who operated from Bangladesh’s Masudpur village in Shibhganj district, close to the Indian border,” said Chakravarty.
Once he grew big, he let his men lead the operations. His office was in the Park Circus neighbourhood in central Kolkata, and Haque would often be seen in the bars of Park Street, the city’s only boulevard. He also had an expansive flat in the New Town area close to the city’s airport. Haque also had flats in Murshidabad and Malda. His operatives worked out of the Sonar Bangla hotel located in Umarpur on the 100-km highway between Krishnanagar and Murshidabad.
Haque had a reputation for being bold. He once walked into the newsroom of a top Bengali daily and told a reporter that he was a law-abiding citizen and paid taxes ranging from Rs 25 crore to Rs 40 crore every year. When the reporter said he was aware of Haque’s business, the latter curtly told the reporter to name a price to stop his reporting on cow smuggling.
For Haque and his men, the 2,217-km-long Bengal-Bangladesh border was a smugglers paradise, with small, demarcated portions fenced on both sides. But his key area was the 141-km stretch between Murshidabad and Malda.
Pressure on Haque increased after Home Minister Amit Shah pushed both the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) to close in on Haque and his men. Once Haque was arrested, the CBI officers moved fast, and also booked one Satish Kumar, a former commandant of the 36 BSF Battalion now posted in Raipur.
The CBI had also arrested Mohammed Golam Mustafa and Anarul SK, two confidants of Haque, who confessed to the CBI that they routinely travelled to Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Bihar seeking increased supplies of cattle. The duo said roughly 5,000 cows and oxen smuggled from these States reach the India-Bangladesh border in Bengal every day.
Haque’s lieutenants would work closely with criminals known for cattle rustling, or lifting, and round up the cattle in trucks to be delivered to Bangladesh. The criminals, working with Haque, would pick up cattle wandering in the streets across Indian cities and also steal animals from cowsheds under the cover of darkness. In India, an estimated 5.2 million stray cows roam about in major cities, block traffic in small villages and destroy fields, said a report in The Washington Post.
Some of these animals are smuggled across the border, while some also head to India’s 30,000 illegal slaughterhouses. India’s cattle smuggling ensures a significant supply of protein in Bangladesh. In particular, smuggling is on a high during the Eid-Ul-Azha period because of the surge in demand.
“The CBI has done some rounds of questioning and now Haque has been taken to Kolkata, where he will be made to sit face to face with a number of people arrested in the case,” said RK Gaur, a spokesman for the CBI. “He was the kingpin of cow smuggling across the Bangladesh border. He was also involved in illegal coal mining,” added Garg.
It is reliably learnt that the CBI is probing links between cattle smugglers and a section of the officers in the BSF, West Bengal State administration and political higher-ups in the State’s ruling Trinamool Congress. Senior Trinamool Congress leader Vinay Mishra is currently being probed by the investigating agency for his alleged role in illegal coal mining and cattle smuggling. The CBI has sealed some residential properties of Mishra, who is currently on the run. Worse, as many as eight IPS officers are facing heat from both CBI and ED for their alleged involvement in Ponzi schemes, cattle and coal smuggling cases.
A senior official of the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in Kolkata said Haque came under the scanner of investigating agencies when his name surfaced in hawala operations. He was using the Bangladesh network to remit cash to accounts in Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai and Malaysia.
“Our investigations are continuing,” the official, who works in the Kolkata office of the ED, told this writer in a telephonic interview. The official said Haque had been under the scanner of the Directorate for over a decade. “He had an uninterrupted run smuggling cows and drugs across the Bangladesh border. He is also close to the illegal coal operators in Bengal and also a top hawala operator.”
Sources in the ED’s office in the Indian Capital said Haque’s net worth would be around Rs 2,000 crore. He recently acquired properties in Dubai, rented apartments in Dhaka, Singapore, Kathmandu and Kuala Lumpur. Over 45 people live in his houses in Lalgola and Raghunathganj in Murshidabad district of West Bengal. ED sources said Haque owned over 15 suitcase companies with addresses across India to run his hawala network.
Pressures from the BSF, CBI and ED hit Haque’s business, which was already reeling under the impact of COVID-19. The number of cattle head seized by the BSF was around 5,000 in 2020. In 2019, the figure was over 40,000.
Ashwini Kumar Singh, IG, South Bengal Frontier, who assumed charge in June last year, increased patrolling along the border. Singh, in a press note, said his job was challenging. “It is a very complex border as the population resides on either side … in close proximity and have ethnic and cultural similarities, which makes it… a serious challenge for our men guarding the border,” read a statement issued by the BSF.
Haque is being questioned at undisclosed locations in Kolkata. He will also be taken to some border areas of Bengal. The CBI and ED want to know who was on his gravy train. Only then will the cycle of crime be broken, once and for all.