BSF tracks earth, water and air on Bangladesh border

Recently acquired Israeli tether drones & thermal imagers aid operations in challenging riverine terrain

November 04, 2019 12:13 am | Updated 12:13 am IST - GUWAHATI

Going high tech:  The BSF has bought Israeli drones for use in Dhubri sector that stretches from Meghalaya to Cooch Behar.

Going high tech: The BSF has bought Israeli drones for use in Dhubri sector that stretches from Meghalaya to Cooch Behar.

The Border Security Force (BSF) has literally gone underground to keep a watch on trafficking in the Dhubri sector of the India-Bangladesh border. It has also placed eyes in the sky.

The border force has procured an unspecified number of Israeli tether drones for the Dhubri sector that stretches from Meghalaya to Cooch Behar in West Bengal. Tethered to a base for continuous supply of power, these drones — worth ₹37 lakh each — are equipped with day-and-night vision cameras that can capture images within a range of 2 km.

Five States — Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura and West Bengal — share a 4,096-km border with Bangladesh. Of the 263 km that Assam shares, 119.1 km is riverine.

The 61-km border in western Assam’s Dhubri sector where the expansive Brahmaputra river flows into Bangladesh is arguably the toughest to man. Vast sandbars or river islands and innumerable water channels make surveillance a challenge, especially during the rainy season.

“Smuggling is usually done at night and through blind spots that are difficult to monitor. The tether drones are an extension of our physical and biological limitations with cameras constantly feeding images from a maximum height of 150 metres,” Inspector-General of BSF’s Guwahati Frontier Piyush Mordia told The Hindu .

The difference between a normal drone and a tether drone is that the former needs to be brought down after 30 minutes of flying for a battery change and can be blown away by strong winds. “The Dhubri sector is windy and frequent gusts do not impact the tether drones much,” he said.

Mr. Mordia admitted that cattle smugglers or human traffickers could detect the tether drones. “But the idea is to send them the message that they are being watched day and night,” he said.

Apart from the drones, the BSF has employed thermal-imagers — non-contact temperature measurement devices — and both underground and underwater sensors to detect movement of people, animals and other objects. “The underwater sensors are crucial given the topography of the area where our men cannot patrol without boats,” Mr. Mordia said.

Smugglers often use the Brahmaputra and its channels to smuggle drugs and cough syrups sealed in polythene and stuck to the bottom of boats or below a raft. Smugglers are also known to have used children using hollow papaya stems as snorkels to breathe underwater while guiding cattle across the border.

The BSF personnel have been seizing at least a dozen cattle every month in the Dhubri sector. These are handed over to the police who either entrust with authorised NGOs or auction them.

“We are maintaining proper description of the cattle seized so that the people who try buy them at the action and try to smuggle them again are caught,” Mr Mordia said, adding that the force has written to the police in Bihar, Odisha and other hinterland states to check the movement of cattle for tighter checking on the border.

The BSF’s use of gadgets is part of the Comprehensive Integrated Border Management System to ensure foolproof security.

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