Border districts where issues spill over

The recent COVID-19 scare brought to the fore the importance of coordination among States. From smuggling of goods to dumping of medical waste, the issues are many, and need careful handling, by several State governments acting in concert

February 23, 2020 12:24 am | Updated 02:44 am IST

Taking no chances:  The police keep a close watch on vehicles entering the State from Kerala at a check-post in Coimbatore district.

Taking no chances: The police keep a close watch on vehicles entering the State from Kerala at a check-post in Coimbatore district.

Border districts of any State have their unique issues, by virtue of being neighbours with another State. In the case of Tamil Nadu, the rather porous border that it shares with its neighbours gives rise to issues involving smuggling (rice, liquor, ganja and red sanders) and trafficking, among others, requiring constant vigil.

With the State sharing borders with Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and the Union Territory of Puducherry, minding them is a full-time occupation.

Recently, with Kerala recording three cases of COVID-19 , the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border has become a hot spot, and special surveillance has been mounted on the movement of people to keep the virus from spreading.

Health alert

Every time an infectious disease surfaces in a neighbouring State, Tamil Nadu’s Public Health Department draws up a contingency plan. Among its priority areas are the districts that share border with the State concerned.

Be it the outbreak of leptospirosis, H1N1 influenza, Nipah virus or COVID-19 in Kerala, Tamil Nadu has had to step up surveillance in the districts along the inter-State borders.

There is a standard operating procedure in such cases, say public health officials. The response depends on the nature of outbreak, they add. “When there is an outbreak of a disease in a neighbouring State, surveillance, exchange of information and coordination between the two States, mutual contact tracing and early detection are crucial factors,” says Beela Rajesh, Health Secretary.

“We activate the check-posts in the border districts. We take up sanitation measures in the adjoining villages, and mobile medical teams are deputed to these villages. We take up IEC activities in these areas,” she adds.

The work at the ground-level is intense. A health officer points out that public health teams are deployed at the check-posts, and they board the buses that arrive from the neighbouring State and ask passengers about symptoms of the disease at the entry points. Depending on the disease, vehicles entering the State are also disinfected at the check-posts, he says. In fact, health authorities hold inter-State border district meetings with Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala on an annual basis, he adds.

Liquor and lotteries

In Coimbatore district, which shares a border with Palakkad and portions of Thrissur and Idukki districts of Kerala, some of the main problems are trafficking of non-taxed goods, sale of lotteries and illegal sale of liquor, even on dry days announced by the government.

There are 11 check-posts along the Kerala border, including prominent ones at Velanthavalam, Gopalapuram, Meenakshipuram and Anaikatti.

Sale of lotteries is rampant in all areas of Coimbatore bordering Palakkad, which the police are struggling to curb. On an average, Coimbatore District (Rural) Police register five cases under provisions of the Lotteries (Regulation) Act daily. Though sale of lotteries is banned in Tamil Nadu under the Act, people buy lottery tickets from Kerala and sell them illegally at higher prices. “Nearly 80% of the sales is from Tamil Nadu,” says K. Suresh, employee of a lottery stall near Walayar.

Targeting tipplers from Kerala, several toddy shops are operating illegally in the coconut plantations in Velanthavalam, Meenakshipuram and Gopalapuram. While toddy tapping is banned in Tamil Nadu, the alcoholic beverage is tapped illegally in several coconut plantations lying close to Palakkad district and even smuggled to Kerala. The police and the Excise Department are accused of turning a blind eye to this.

A senior Revenue Department official said that efforts under way to create special teams of the Excise Department to check illegal toddy tapping and operation of Tasmac outlets beyond the permitted time. Joshua G.P.N., a social worker from Anaikatti, explains that after the Kerala government enforced total prohibition in Attapadi tribal belt, tipplers from bordering villages of Kerala come in large numbers to Tasmac outlets near Anaikatti and Mangarai.

On the edge

Every time there is a fresh war of words over the age-old river water dispute, normalcy in Hosur is hit. A significant section of its residents work in Electronics City in Bengaluru, a mere 40 km away, and in other factories in Karnataka. When the inter-State transport network freezes, the daily commute of the workers is derailed. Escalated rentals and real estate prices due to its proximity to Bengaluru are a huge challenge for aspiring home owners. This has also thrown up issues of unapproved layouts for a home-hungry population.

On the one hand, the cost of living is similar to that of Bengaluru because of its proximity, but the pay of workers in the industrial hub falls short, says writer and Hosur resident Aadhavan Deetchanya.

The town has not been able to secure autonomous growth in the form of big hospitals, educational institutions, as it is close to the neighbouring State’s capital.

Crime is a major issue because of a large floating population as are jurisdictional issues, says Bala Siva Prasad, a farmer. Hosur has reported a significant number of murders and crimes, where the offenders and accused take cover across the border. There is also the problem of illicit liquor trade, where liquor from Karnataka is smuggled and sold in the villages of Hosur, says Mr. Prasad.

Cat and mouse game

Notwithstanding the continuous crackdown by the Villupuram and Cuddalore district police, the smuggling of Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL) from neighbouring Puducherry through the porous border has become a major headache for the Law enforcement authorities.

The borders are too porous to be managed effectively, despite the Tamil Nadu police coordinating and exchanging information with their counterparts in Puducherry. Most of the smuggling is carried out along the arterial East Coast Road, Pattanur, Kiliyanur, Gengarampalayam and Siruvanthadu.

As many as 1,68,119 bottles of IMFL were seized by the Prohibition Enforcement Wing personnel manning the permanent check-posts on the bordering areas. Police sources said that rowdy elements involved in murder and extortion had also been playing a cat and mouse game with the law enforcement authorities in both regions. In the last few months, the Villupuram district police had detained as many as 20 rowdy elements operating in both regions.

Tiruvallur’s woes

In Tiruvallur, which shares a border with Andhra Pradesh, sand, red sanders and ganja smuggling are the major problems.

At Arambakkam, Pallipattu, Uthukottai and Tiruttani, the major complaints pertain to transportation and sand mining.

Another major problem is smuggling of ganja from Andhra Pradesh to Tamil Nadu, especially through Tiruttani. “People go by bicycle and purchase the drug. They then make small packets and sell it in Tiruvallur district and some even take it to Chennai,” says S. Arumugam, a resident of Tiruttani.

In 2019, the Tiruvallur police booked 30 cases pertaining to ganja smuggling and arrested 55 persons. A total of 72.5 kg ganja was seized. In 2020, till date, five cases have been registered and five persons have been arrested.

Apart from this, red sanders smuggling from Andhra Pradesh is also a major headache. “Every month we register at least four cases. The logs are smuggled into Tamil Nadu, packed in small units located in Tiruvallur and Chennai and then shipped,” says a forest officer.

Sand mining is another major issue in the border areas of Tiruvallur. S. Jayachandran, Tamil Nadu Sugarcane Farmers Association, State Committee Member and a resident of Puniyam village, says: “Every day tractors from Andhra Pradesh take sand from the Kosasthalaiyar river in Tamil Nadu limits. They have dug over 20 feet of sand from the river bed. Some of the villagers have been beaten up by the smugglers.” P. Manikandan, Uthukottai secretary, CPI(M), said that bikes and tractors are used to steal sand from Arani Kosathalayar near Chitapakkam village.

Police said that 1,081 sand mining cases were registered in 2019 and 1,201 persons were arrested. A total of 1,192 vehicles used for transporting the sand were seized. In 2020, a total of 39 cases were registered and 43 persons were arrested. A total of 30 vehicles were seized.

Rice racket

The district shares a border with Kerala at Kaliyakkavilai, on the Thiruvananthapuram highway. The adjacent coastal route via Niththiravilai to the neighbouring State has always witnessed smuggling of rice and kerosene meant for public distribution. While kerosene is sold immediately, the ration rice is polished, repacked and sold at a premium. Whenever security is being beefed up on these two routes following untoward incidents, the latest being the gunning down of Special Sub-Inspector of Police Y. Wilson, the smugglers prefer train services between Nagercoil and Thiruvananthapuram. Some of the smugglers turn the ration rice into rice flour and smuggle it to Kerala in a bid to escape detection. Though around a tonne ration rice is seized every week, none of the smugglers has been arrested by the special flying squads deployed for this purpose.

Another commodity being smuggled to Kerala is river sand, mostly quarried illegally, where the construction material fetches a premium.

Biomedical waste generated in a few hospitals situated close to the border is smuggled from Kerala to Tenkasi district via Puliyarai and Kaliyakkavilai. Truck drivers returning to Tamil Nadu after offloading consignments in Kerala load their vehicles with biomedical waste or broiler waste to be dumped on the roadside in Kaavalkinaru, Valliyoor, Koodankulam, Shencottai, Puliyarai and Tenkasi.

Coordination between the Kanniyakumari police and their counterparts in Kerala is good, the police claim. In fact, Superintendent of Police of Kanniyakumari N. Shreenath said that they were getting useful inputs from the Kerala police in the SSI murder case.

( With inputs by Serena

Josephine M. in Chennai,

P. Sudhakar in Kanniyakumari, S. Prasad in Puducherry, Wilson Thomas

in Coimbatore and

P.V. Srividya in Krishnagiri)

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