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Punjab Elections 2017: Punjab villagers think out of the box, defy odds to smuggle drugs

A close look at the gates of the Indian army alongside the farms of Theh Kalla village in the border district of Tarn Taran district of Punjab, reveals a check list. The Border Security Force (BSF) personnel along the border outpost of the Khalra Barrier are worried. Merely 13 kms from the barrier is Lahore. The route was earlier used by traders to transport goods was closed after war of 1965, when Pakistan had briefly occupied Theh Kalla.

The barbed-wire fencing along the village stretches for 1.5 kilometers and is guarded by the 87th battallion of BSF. A population of eight hundred-odd persons hold 350 acres of cultivable land in the village, almost all having some part across the border.

25-year-old Joginder Singh, a farmer in Theh Kalla owns five acres of land. While three acres are on the Indian side, two acres fall in Pakistan, he says. When an Indian farmer crosses over to Pakistan for cultivating his farmlands, he has to go through extensive checking. “The BSF is wary of drug smuggling. Land owners and labourers are giving identity cards. Also, BSF conducts elaborate checks on tools and frisking to prevent smuggling of ‘chitta,’ into India,” says Joginder. Even as the gates are opened, two BSF personnel accompany the farmers into the Pakistani land as they farm. Women farmers are accompanied by lady personnel.

Village after village in Tarn Taran is rife with deaths of youngsters who are killed by ‘Chitta.’ “Six months ago, a farmer in Theh Kalla was caught with heroin which was seized from his tractor,” said Harpreet Singh, an NGO worker with Fateh Foundation.

Inspite of stringent checkings, drugs find a way of getting into India, admit BSF officials. “There is smuggling of drugs across the border,” said a senior official at the Khalra Barrier outpost. A farmer from Gazal, another border village had asked for permission to cut a tree in his farmland. The forest department had given a nod. “He cut the tree into five logs and kept them in his farm. He returned back via the gate at sundown. Over night, the logs were changed. They were transported back by the farmer to Gazal,” said the BSF official. “In a joint operation of BSF and police, 53 kilos of heroin were found stuffed inside the hollow logs of the tree which were recovered from his shed.”

An elaborate list is painted in white which specifies under the head of Farmer/Labourer, a slew of things that need to be checked while entering and exiting farmlands on the other side of the fence. This include human body, lunch box, milk carrier, pipes, head loads and fertilizers. Another column has specifications for checking Tractor parts, including Air Cleaner, Diesel Tank, Filters, Tool Box, Clutch, Seat, Flywheel, Front Axle and Oil Filters.

Innovative modus operandi are adopted to smuggle drugs. A few months back, 455 grams of heroin was recovered from another farmer’s axe. The wooden handle had been drilled from inside and filled with ‘Chitta.’ “On checking, it made a rattling noise. The handle was opened up and drugs were recovered.” the official said.

According to statistics released by the central government, earlier this week, Punjab tops the list of five poll-bound states in the drug seizure chart. 2,632 kilos of drugs including heroin, charas, ganja and poppy husk popularly known as bhukki in local parlance, worth Rs 12.3 crores were seized until January 28 by various agencies including the BSF.

Theh Kalla is one of the 212 villages along the 462 kilometer-long border that India shares with Pakistan along Punjab, where 17,000 acres of cultivable land owned by Indian farmers lies.

Farmers may have to walk 2 – 3 kilometers to reach their farmlands in Pakistan, at times they are deep inside. They also casually interact with Pakistani farmers as they cultivate lands alongside each other. “At times, smugglers from Pakistan bury ‘Chitta,’ packets in Indian farmers’ land. Even as BSF personnel are supervising the Indian farmers, the latter slowly digs out packet and approaching border fences buries it back in few meters.

This goes on for few days and when the drug reaches close to the fence, it is thrown over the fence into vast swathes of wheat fields,” said another official.

The drug smugglers are present on both sides of borders and use Pakistani Sim Cards to communicate. Sitting at Theh Kalla, signals to Indian telecom operators are lost and a message pops up, asking to select a city circle – either ‘Karachi,’ or ‘Islamabad.’

BSF officials admit that there is a distance of atleast one kilometer between two watch towers along the border fence. Certain area of farmland may go unmonitored at any given point of time leading to smuggling. “It is a humane drawback. Our constables keep patrolling, however, visibility is reduced to a few meters during misty conditions which may lead to smuggling,” said the official.