Bangladesh continues to be the main source of infiltrators into India, according to official Indian data.
India’s Minister of State for Defense Ajay Bhatt told parliament recently that there were 441 infiltration attempts made along the India-Bangladesh border in the first six months of 2021. He said that 740 infiltrators from Bangladesh were apprehended and one was killed by the security forces.
Infiltration attempts from other neighboring countries into India were far lower. While there was no infiltration attempt along the disputed India-China border, there were 33 instances along the border with Pakistan, which led to 11 persons being killed and 20 infiltrators being taken into custody, according to the report of the Security Forces and Ministry of Home Affairs.
The statement further disclosed that 11 persons were nabbed while making efforts to enter India from Nepal. And unsurprisingly, there was a sudden spurt in the influx from Myanmar after the military coup six months ago. An estimated 8,486 persons crossed over to India from Myanmar, of whom 5,796 were pushed back.
Excepting the situation of Myanmar, Bangladesh has been the source country of most infiltrators into India. The latest figures indicate that this decades-old trend continues to hold.
India and Bangladesh share a 4,095-kilometer-long border or which around 1,116 kilometers is riverine. Bangladesh is surrounded by five Indian states – West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura – on three sides.
Cross-border crimes and infiltration from Bangladesh have prompted the Indian government to adopt a multi-pronged approach to checking illegal activities, while increasing surveillance along the border.
Efforts are underway to complete the border fence and install floodlights and high-tech surveillance equipment along the frontier. In addition to upgrading the intelligence setup, authorities have enhanced coordination among state governments on the Indian side of the border.
Technological solutions are being utilized on a pilot basis for vulnerable areas where physical fencing was found to be unfeasible. A smart fence has been installed on a 60-kilometer-long stretch of the border in Assam’s Dhubri district following the launch of a similar project along the India-Pakistan border in Jammu and Kashmir.
According to officials from India’s Border Security Force (BSF), which is responsible for guarding India’s border with Bangladesh, there are many gaps in the border management system that facilitate infiltration and cross-border crimes such as cattle smuggling and drug and human trafficking.
Many stretches of the border are yet to be fenced. According to former BSF Additional Director General P. K. Mishra, “Completely sealing the border is impossible as there are several villages located close to the border where demarcation of ‘a no-man’s-land’ is unfeasible.”
Mishra identified Nadia, Murshidabad, and Malda in West Bengal as some of the “hotspots” for illicit activities along the border.
Figures on Bangladeshi infiltration into India that were released by the home ministry earlier this year indicate that the number has fluctuated over the past five years. In 2016, the total number of Bangladeshis apprehended while crossing into India was 1,601. After falling to 907 and 884 in 2017 and 2018, respectively, the numbers went up to 1,109 in 2019 and again dipped to 955 in 2020.
In these five years, the maximum number of infiltrators was apprehended in West Bengal followed by Tripura. There were no instances of infiltration into Mizoram, which shares a border with the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh used to be reluctant to accept that its citizens are unlawfully settling and taking up menial jobs in India. However, in the past several years, it has begun to accept the deportation of nationals who have completed their jail sentences and who were willing to return to their home country.
Infiltration is a major issue in several Indian states. The northeastern state of Assam was rocked by a six-year-long agitation four decades ago primarily to get the government to identify and deport illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. A controversial register of citizens called the National Register of Citizens was compiled as well to deter foreign nationals from acquiring Indian citizenship and settling down in the troubled state.
Only last month, police in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu launched a crackdown against illegal Bangladeshi settlers who are reportedly emerged as a “security threat.” They had settled down in five districts in the state and were posing as natives from the state of West Bengal.