By Rashmi Talwar
Amritsar July 14, 2013———
Sniffer dogs in Amritsar entrusted with the duty to detect drugs, banned substances, explosives etc were merely having a good time in the traditionally hospitable environs of Amritsar or were they being treated as extra baggage. I cannot imagine them being ill-treated as they were prized trained dogs from a reputable dog training agency of India, perhaps one of the best agencies in the world.
But somewhere something has been amiss and a mischief surely seems to be afoot as each of these canines died within months of each other. This infact puts a question mark on the agencies handling them especially the anti-smuggling wing to whom they are entrusted, for use by customs on three International exit and entry points, two out of which are connected to our neighbor Pakistan.
Before we start howling about a Pakistani hand in the death of three dogs all of them passed to the nether world in the past year, I must tell you that none of these dogs were put on duty of smelling out narcotics, reveal my sources. They were merely straddled around the airports, Joint Check post with Pakistan and Attari border Railway route, to scare the smugglers. It seems the smugglers already knew the handlers and were hardly scared of the canines knowing fully well that they would not be apprehended. This assurance among smugglers was proved true. Had that not been the case, at least one of the three would have ‘smelled a rat’ sometime during their heydays if not later days. But strangely none of them detected even an ant leave alone explosives, RDX, drugs or others. This is revealed through the government records which were laid bare in reply to an RTI.
According to a reply by social and RTI activist PC Sharma of Amritsar, three dogs i.e. Romeo, Marshal and Monty were brought on sniffing duties to Amritsar to check on three international entry-exit points.
Romeo brought in March 2005 died within seven years on 24th January 2012. Marshal was added to the dog squad in December 2006 but on July 22, 2012 he too passed away . Monty too was brought along with Marshal in December 2006 and died two months after his friend Marshal on 3rd September 2012.
Could the deaths of three sniffers in a matter of months of each other be a coincidence?
Sharma the RTI activist observed that “Government of Indian had deployed three sniffer dogs for its internal and external security and protection. These sniffers are trained by various agencies at a heavy cost. Upon deployment there is a recurring regular expenditure on their fitness and day to day activities. The anti smuggling unit of the Customs had brought these three sniffers specially trained by the noted agency ‘National Training Center for Dogs’ in Tikanpur , Madhya Pradesh to detect drugs, psychotropic substances and other threats faced by the country from its internal as well as external enemies.”
Filling an RTI on 21June 2013 relating to the sniffers to the customs department, the details of cases and materials detected and discovered by these sniffers was asked from the customs department. The reply provided by Deputy Commissioner (Anti Smuggling Wing of Customs) dated 10th July 2013, seems to be quite amusing, smirks Sharma. The official writes that as per available records three dogs namely Romeo, Monty a d Marshal had ’t detected or discovered ‘even a single clue’ that which could lead to any kind of recovery or detection of substances.
Mr VK Khosla Deputy Commissioner anti smuggling wing said the department had brought two dogs just 15 days back. On the number of seizures by the three sniffers who died last year he kept mum.
Says Sharma –“It seems that either dog handlers have not got proper training or there is some covert reason due to which the nation is suffering huge loss in the shape of expenses incurred on this squad and the dangerous substances entering the country undetected.
As per the available information sniffer dogs have played major role in the field of security and many major causalities have been averted due to the detection made by these dogs throughout the world. Therefore Government of India, Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Finance is requested to inquire this sensitive matter and take necessary actions in National interest.” Sharma while talking to Saanjh, said dog squad was requisitioned in the year 1990 -91.
Coincidentally, it was the same year that militancy gripped Jammu and Kashmir after Punjab was ravished by it earlier. And adds–“On my queries of diet of dogs, medical certificate or post-mortem certificate of the deceased dogs, the department has kept mum”.
The dogs according to sources were entrusted with a chaprasi ‘frash’ as they are called or water-servers in the department when they should have been in the care of an educated, dog loving handler having full training about care of the dogs and to get optimum value for them.
The National Training center for dogs an agency run by BSF, trains dogs for 36 countries world over. Hence its credentials seem to be sound.
If the sniffers could sniff out substances and others, during the test period after training how is it that they could not smell anything in Amritsar – a border city with an international airport, land and train communications which is virtual transit point for huge haul of drugs and is notorious for rampant smuggling? Well the Anti smuggling wing has some answering to do.