March 17, 2022: The airport security staff at the Jaipur airport were pleasantly surprised when they stopped senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Arun Bothra and asked him to open his handbag for routine checking. The IPS officer currently posted as Transport Commissioner of Odisha was found to be carrying a suitcase full of peas.
On being questioned the officer revealed that he managed to get the peas in bulk at a low price – Rs 40 per kg and was hence carrying a bag full with him to Bhubaneswar.
Everyone thought it was a good joke. Bothra tweeted about the incident and laughed it off. Many IAS, IPS and IFS playfully pulled Bohra’s legs and hoped that he ended his journey “peas-fully”.
But jokes apart, smuggling and illegal cross-border movement of green peas is a ‘serious matar’ and an organised crime that cannot be taken lightly.
In the past few years, several cases have come to light where huge quantities of green or dried peas have been wrongfully declared as something else or undervalued to avoid paying customs duties.
This is how the whole hide-and-seek game is played:
Crux of the problem:
India is the largest producer and consumer of pulses in the world.
Green pea is widely recognized as one of the world’s healthiest foods and one of the first food crops to be cultivated by humans. Peas are now grown throughout the world in nearly every climatic zone and are widely consumed in both fresh and dried forms. Only about 5% of the peas grown are sold fresh; the rest are either frozen or canned.
Essentially there are four varieties of peas– yellow peas, green peas, dun peas and kaspa peas.
India is dependent on the import of peas as domestic output is lower than the demand. India imports about 30 lakh tonnes of peas annually, of which yellow peas comprise about 5 lakh tonnes and green peas about 2.50 lakh tonnes. Fresh green peas are available only between December-February, while in the remaining period of the year, the demand is met through imports.
The government has imposed restrictions on the import of peas and urad (black gram). Till recently even other pulses like Tur, Moong and Udid were in the restricted category but the Union ministry of commerce stepped in and opened up the import of Tur, Moong and Udid and moved them from the restricted to the open category.
In the case of peas, the government has fixed the import quota and import of only 1.5 lakh tonnes of peas is allowed annually.
Presently, the import of Peas is allowed only through the Kolkata seaport and the import duty on peas is 50 per cent. On top of it, the government has fixed a minimum import price (MIP) of Rs 200 per kg on peas and is only allowing restricted shipments to protect domestic farmers.
This is where the catch lies as given the restrictions imposed on the import of peas the landed cost of imported peas will be over Rs 300 per kg.
To fill in the void large quantities of peas from Bangladesh, Nepal and Myanmar are being smuggled and flooding the Indian market.
Another source of cheap peas is Canada from where Bangladesh is importing peas, which are then flooded illegally into the Indian market.
Let’s take a look at the way the smuggling is carried out.
April 13, 2022: On basis of specific intelligence customs and central excise officials belonging to SIIB (Imports) of ICD Dadri foiled a smuggling racket and confiscated two containers full of 42 tons of Green Peas. The consignment valued over Rs. 90 Lakhs was mis-declared as Gypsum Powder. Further investigation is in progress.
February 22, 2022: BSF personnel seized seven vehicles loaded with huge quantities of dry peas worth more than Rs 50 lakh being illegally smuggled from Bangladesh to Meghalaya’s West Jaintia Hill district. Smuggling of ‘dry pea’ from Bangladesh has been a worrying issue over the past many years. BSF alone is understood to have seized more than 1300 tons of dry pea amounting to Rs 12 crore in the last three years.
Meghalaya shares 443km of the 4,096-km-long India-Bangladesh border. Assam, Mizoram, Tripura and West Bengal share the rest of the border with Bangladesh. BSF personnel manning the Indo-Bangladesh border in Meghalaya arrested 150 people including 59 Bangladeshi nationals and seized smuggled goods worth over Rs 38 crore in 2021. Those arrested included 88 Indians, two Nigerians and an African national.
Dec 20, 2021: Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) officials arrested three persons, including an importer and a customs in-house agent (CHA), for illegally importing green peas by mis-declaring them as bamboo beans, thus undervaluing the goods from over Rs 2 crore to Rs 10 lakh. Acting on a specific tip-off the DRI examined six containers and seized almost 117 tons of green peas stuffed in gunny bags. The three accused –importer Rajendra Shejwal, CHA Sudhir Tanna and Ahmedabad businessman Kumudchandra Patel, have been remanded to magistrate’s custody.
Nov 17, 2021: The administrative hierarchy in the Maharajganj district of UP seemed to have been stung by a swarm of bees when Sharad Yadav a constable posted at the Siswa police post uploaded two videos on social media accusing his immediate superior (chowki in-charge) and other policemen of being involved in smuggling of green peas. According to the constable, he apprehended a pick-up van laden with green peas but instead of praising him for his efforts his senior scolded him and instead of lodging a complaint against the alleged smugglers allowed them to go scot-free. When the said videos went viral on social media the SP had to intervene and suspended about a dozen policemen.
It is worth mentioning that Maharajganj shares an 84 km long border with Nepal manned by the SSB personnel. The porous border allows all kinds of unrestricted movement between Nepal and India and proves to be a blessing in disguise for the smugglers who among other things bring a huge amount of Canadian peas into India where they are packed and sold in the market. This is such a lucrative business that the smugglers don’t mind paying policemen to look the other way and allow their nefarious activities to go on day and night.
Oct 14, 2021: Sleuths of Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) from Lucknow and Gorakhpur Branch seized a huge consignment of Green peas worth Rs 1.36 crore from a godown in Deoria. The consignment of Canadian green peas was reportedly routed from Nepal to India where it was packaged into smaller packages for sale in the domestic markets in Southern India.
Significantly the DRI Gorakhpur branch had intercepted a consignment of green peas smuggled from Nepal. Upon further investigation, they got a tip-off about a godown in Deoria and asked their counterparts in Lucknow to step in. Both teams jointly raided the godown and recovered 46 metric tons of green peas. Further investigations are on and chances are that more such nodes of a big and organised crime syndicate in other districts of UP may be exposed soon.
5 March 2021: A BSF party intercepted 10 Bolero pickup vans loaded with about 20,000 kg of dry peas estimated to be worth Rs 20 lakh at the Muktapur- Lakrah Road junction. As soon as the Bolero Pick vans loaded with dry peas were intercepted, the operation party was outnumbered by aggressive villagers from the area. The local police were called for assistance and the crowd was dispersed. But the vehicles managed to escape. In the meantime, the party was reinforced from the adjacent BSF camps and they pursued the vehicles heading towards Amlarem and intercepted them at the Muktapur-Lakrah Road junction. Once again, the nearby villagers gathered and started pelting stones, and empty bottles at the BSF personnel. To prevent the situation from going out of control the BSF troops had to fire one round of PAG (Non-lethal weapon) in the air. In the past few months, BSF apprehended eight smugglers in Meghalaya along with 3,33,992 kg of dry peas amounting to approximately Rs 3 crore.
December 2020: BSF seizes 58 country-made Bangladeshi boats illegally smuggling 45,000 kg dry peas valued at Rs 68 lakh – neatly packed in plastic bags from Bangladesh to India at the Muktapur border outpost in West Jantia Hills district of Meghalaya.
According to BSF officials, the wooden boats carrying the dry peas were intercepted just after they entered the Indian territory through the Lakra river along the Indo-Bangladesh border in Meghalaya. Recent seizures of a huge consignment of dry peas along the largely unfenced 443 km long Indo-Bangladesh border consisting of riverine, dense forests, and hilly terrains is ideal for all kinds of smuggling and illegal trade. However large-scale seizures of smuggled goods by the Indian security forces in recent times have prompted the smugglers to use the riverine route to avoid interception.
October 2020: DRI officers recovered dry dates (12 MT) and peas (9.3 MT), being smuggled through the Nepal-Bihar- UP-Delhi route from a truck — camouflaged under bags of rice.
September 2019: Indian Border Security Force seized three boats from Bangladesh loaded with smuggled peas on the Myntdu river. Two more boats carrying smuggled peas escaped and fled back to Bangladesh.
According to B.C. Bhartia, National President CAIT – an Apex Body of Trading Community, “world over, attempts are being made to destabilize developing and growing economies as well as spread unhealthy atmosphere.”
“There are various modes through which funds are transferred to other countries. One of the mode is by illegally sending material in another country. By sale of these smuggled material money so generated helps to fund in illegally, unethical and corrupt practices”, he said.
Elaborating further he said, “catching smuggling of goods is important. But more important now a days is to go behind the motive for which the smuggling is being done. Who are the real beneficiaries of this smuggling. What is the motive of the money generated from sale of smuggled goods.”
Hence according to him, “It is also necessary to probe how the goods being smuggled has been funded. Smuggling of goods is not Limited to earning profits. It is beyond that.”
“In my opinion smuggling of good is Anti National activity. It has to be dealt with very seriously. Funding anti-national persons will destabilize our country, create violence and hatred in the country,” he concluded.