Cattle are being brought in over the borders without being put in quarantine, posing a health risk to humans and livestock for diseases that might arrive and spread undetected.
Such unchecked entry of cattle and animals has been on for years in the absence of adequate attention of the government, said stakeholders.
For example, it has been 12 years since the Animal and Animal Product Quarantine Act 2005 was passed but a corresponding rule on its application is not yet available.
The Department of Livestock Services said the rule has been framed and awaits vetting by the law ministry.
The department set up 24 quarantine stations at ports, including 19 land-based ones, to test animals and animal products before giving clearance for entry.
Officials say there is a lack of workforce and equipment for which only a few have become operational.
“Quarantine of animals is important because more than 70 percent of human diseases come through birds and animals,” said Md Shahiduzzaman, professor of the Department of Parasitology at Bangladesh Agricultural University.
“Cattle that are brought from India and Myanmar may carry disease. This is risky,” he said.
Cattle make up the lion share of the animals brought in through borders: around one million are smuggled in from India every year as the neighbouring nation does not export the animal on religious grounds.
Under a practice going on for years, the cattle being smuggled are let loose at the border and local cowboys herd them into corrals, known as “khatal”, where the authorities concerned declare them “unclaimed”.
Each animal is then “auctioned” off for Tk 500.
The Animal and Animal Product Quarantine Act 2005 stipulates quarantine of cattle brought in “without valid import documents and health certificate”.
“We clear cattle by charging lump sum amount when those are brought at the corridors,” said a senior official of the Customs, VAT and Excise Commissionerate seeking anonymity.
Another senior official said corridors are situated in the remote areas of the border and there is no infrastructure there. “Quarantine of animals is necessary. But it is not done,” he said.
Entry of cattle from India has slumped since fiscal 2014-15 in the wake of a crackdown by Indian security forces at the border.
Some 9.5 lakh cattle were brought through customs corridors in fiscal 2016-17, down from about 10 lakh the previous year, according to data from field offices under the National Board of Revenue (NBR).
The cattle smuggled in are mostly past their prime and prone to diseases, said a senior official of the livestock department.
“We have noticed that outbreak of disease is high at border areas,” he said.
Livestock department officials said prevalence of foot and mouth disease has reduced for a dip in cattle flow from neighbouring countries and for vaccination.
Prof Shahiduzzaman said livestock carry germs that cause diseases such as tuberculosis and diarrhoea. Hence, restriction on entry of diseased animals is necessary for public health, he said.
As cattle are kept at certain points named khatal, quarantine can be done there to restrict entry of diseased animals, he said.
Shafiqul Islam, project director for establishing the quarantine stations, said quarantine stations were operational at Benapole, Sonamasjid, Hilly and Teknaf land ports and at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
Operation of the rest will begin as soon as workforce is available, he said.