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Sushanta Talukdar
Date of Publish: 2016-06-03

“Virtual Fence” option for Sonowal for sealing

Assam-Bangladesh border

Report of a committee constituted by the previous Tarun Gogoi government may make Sonowal's task easier


Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has promised to seal Assam-Bangladesh border in two years to put an end to ‘infiltration’ from the neighbouring country. Mr. Sonowal referred to the riverine stretch of this border as the most stretch of the land border along this international boundary has been fenced while most of the riverine stretch has remained unprotected. 

A report compiled by a committee, which was constituted by the previous Tarun Gogoi-led Congress government to examine and recommend measures for preventing ‘infiltration’ through the unprotected riverine areas along Assam-Bangladesh border, may make the task easier for the Bharatiya Janata Party-led coalition government headed by Mr. Sonowal.

The “Committee for Preventing Infiltration Through the Unprotected Riverine Areas in the Assam-Bangladesh border”, in its report, submitted to the state government in 2013, recommended installation of a “virtual fence” after it had found that erection of a physical fence such as a barbed wire fence is not feasible along the riverine stretch of the state’s border with Bangladesh. The previous Congress government tabled the report on the floor of the Assam Assembly in 2014. The eight-member committe was headed by senior IAS officer P.K. Chowdhury.

Assam shares 267.30 km of international border with Bangladesh along the three districts of Dhubri, Karimganj and Cachar of which 222.711 km is the land border and 44.589 km are riverine border areas. 

The proposed “virtual fence” is basically an electronic surveillance and communication system comprising of 80 surveillance towers equipped with high resolution visible wavelength cameras and infrared cameras to be set up along the riverine border.  The Technical Sub-Committee, which recommended setting up of the “virtual fence” estimated that the cost of such a system excluding the construction cost of the towers would be around Rs 190 crore.

The “Virtual fence” will have microwave sensors to be set up at regular intervals along the riverine border that can detect intruders through volumetric analysis.    An electronic network is to be set up connecting the surveillance towers, Border Security Force outposts, Border Outposts (BOP) including the floating BOP and the Central Command and Sub-Command Control rooms.

“Any intrusion or attempted intrusion would trigger off an alarm enabling immediate response from appropriate level. The cameras installed on the surveillance towers, which can be controlled remotely over the network, can in the first instance be used to identify the cause of alarm and if it is due to intruders and not small animals etc, BSF personnel can rush to the spot from the nearest outpost/surveillance tower/BOP,” states the report while explaining the mechanism of the recommended “virtual fence.”

The committee also recommended that all the boats and other vessels plying in these areas would have to be electronically tagged and registered with the Inland Water Transport (IWT) authorities and the riverine traffic would be monitored using radio frequency identification monitoring system for registered vessels. Dhubri district has total 41.521 km of unprotected and non-feasible gap excluding 8.27 km from Masalabari to Mantrichar which has been fenced. Most of these border areas are either char lands or distributaries of the river Brahmaputra which are open and unfenced. “Over a period of time the distributaries keep changing their course and new char areas appear which old chars go under water. Even during the year as well as during the day the water level keeps changing. While touring these areas the Committee observed even speedboats had to be steered with great dexterity through the waters, as it is not deep enough in many parts. BSF authorities informed that though they had radar installed, it was difficult to know which boat/vessel is Indian as these were not licensed. They further informed that in the event of checking the people it was difficult to identify who was an Indian as they did not carry any identity card or other documents for identification.  Cachar and Karimganj have total 3.068 km of riverine border with Bangladesh.

At the time of compilation of the report by the Committee, there were nearly 2000 mechanically propelled boats plying in the riverine areas of Dhubri. “Only 29 of these boats are registered with IWT Directorate between March 2007 and March 2012. There is reluctance on the part of the boat owners to register their boats and the enforcement by IWT Directorate is weak. There is, however, a need that all such boats should be electronically tagged so that they can be monitored from a central tower or towers or control rooms. All such boats accordingly need to be registered by the IWT Directorate within a fixed time. License of boats operating without registration after this period should be cancelled and they should be prevented from plying,” recommends the committee. 

The committee noted that the patterns of infiltration are different along the land border and along the riverine stretch.  “In the land borders, infiltrators mainly use the river routes under the bridges and culverts located along the international border roads. They have also, especially during the night time, sometimes cut the International Barbed Wire fencing to make an entry. In the riverine and char areas of Dhubri district the infiltration pattern is different. These areas consist of char lands and various channels of the river Brahmaputra.

There are some chars that link both India and Bangladesh like Gashpara, Bhogdhar, Aminerchar, Barmanpara, Hatichar and Salpara where there is no fencing. Some other chars like Masalabari IB fencing has been put in place. These areas are physically being manned by BSF. Infiltrators are difficult to be identified as the language, physical features, religion, attire, food habits etc. of the people on both sides are the same and they can infiltrate awaiting an opportunity. Infiltrators also enter India with the help of border smugglers,” the report adds.

Assam Home Commissioner L.S. Changson told nezine.com that the State Government had recently taken up the matter of sealing of the Assam-Bangladesh border with the Central government and the latter has informed that an effective mechanism to plug the gap along the riverine stretch was being worked out.  

Sushanta Talukdar




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