While people in the rest of the country are queuing up outside banks for cash, there is an eerie calm in Kaliachak in Malda district. Following the demonetisation of Rs500 and Rs1,000 notes, life has come to a virtual standstill in what is known as 'India's counterfeit capital', according to The Economic Times.
Figures reveal how large is the fake Indian currency notes (FICN) business in the area. This year, district police seized Rs1.14 crore in fake currency. In the last two years, 180 cases of FICN have been lodged at the local police station and 240 people, mainly couriers, arrested.
Apart from West Bengal Police, national agencies too are investigating the FICN cases. The Border Security Force has seized FICN of Rs1.35 crore in the last 10 months while Rs2.5 crore in FICN was seized in 2015.
Apart from the Central Bureau of Investigation and the National Investigation Agency, the Enforcement Directorate is investigating 44 cases of FICN in which money was laundered to foreign countries to allegedly fund terror activities in India.
Other than smuggling contraband articles, Kaliachak I, II, III and Baishnabnagar blocks are infamous for poppy cultivation. The illegal cultivation across thousands of acres is also funded by counterfeit currency. Police sources said there have been reports of bank accounts opened by villagers under the Jan Dhan scheme and given to FICN dealers on rent. Employees of the Kaliachak branch of a state-run bank were attacked for not accepting big deposits from small farmers and traders.
"We are keeping a sharp vigil. We have arrested many in connection with FICN and poppy cultivation rackets. We are trying to control the menace," Jayanta Pal, Police Deputy Inspector General, Malda range, said when contacted.
Investigators say FICN enters India through four routes. While the Jammu and Punjab routes are now under control due to increased vigil, Kaliachak via Nepal and Bangladesh border is the most preferred route. Kaliachak is a fertile area for a crime that pays. Since there is little else to do, villagers start early. Some of the accused FICN couriers are children. One boy, now 10, was arrested with his uncle two years ago allegedly carrying FICN.
"With demonetisation, FICN racketeers have faced a massive set back. Tahir Ali, a notorious racketeer, was arrested on Saturday while trying to move his consignment," said a police source.
While the couriers make 5 per cent to 10 per cent on each consignment, profits are huge for those who run the trade. In most cases, investigators fail to reach the kingpins. According to BSF sources, the kingpins get 50 per cent of the amount smuggled into India. In fact, investigations have revealed that racketeers were behind the burning of Kaliachak police station in January this year. They wanted to destroy the documents of FICN cases and poppy cultivation.
"Almost 80 per cent of FICN moves to different corners of the country originate from Malda. Apart from its geographical location and easy access to border, there are other reasons too. There is no check on mobile network here. It boosts smuggling since mobile phones have reduced the risk of getting caught," said asenior BSF official.
The network of Grameenphone, a leading telecom operator in Bangladesh, spills signals to the Indian side, making it easier for smugglers to coordinate their activities on either side of the border.