Drug smugglers on a high in post-COVID India

Representational Image
Representational Image

Investigation agencies say the inflow of psychotropic substances into the country has increased post COVID-19. Peddlers are using innovative methods to outsmart enforcement agencies and lure people with substances new to the country and State.

Bringing in drugs under the cover of importing fruits is the latest method investing agencies have unearthed. Though enforcement agencies net drug peddlers and confiscate banned substances at regular intervals, they are just a minuscule portion of what reaches teens and youngsters.

As many as 345 foreign nationals were arrested in India for smuggling drugs in 2021 alone. A Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) report indicated that the drug network in the country is so widespread and organised. Several Keralites, too, are part of this network.

The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) recently arrested a Keralite following a major drug haul in Mumbai port. The accused, Vijin Varghese, has been accused of shipping 198 kg of Methamphetamine (Meth) worth Rs 1,476 crore along with a consignment of oranges from South Africa. Varghese's arrest validates the NCB's report on the extent of the drug network.

The NCB reported that drug mafia have been using several methods to transport banned substances: courier, parcel and postal services, and employing human carriers. Such shipments often go undetected. The Bureau also reported a four-fold increase in smuggling through parcel services in 2020 over 2019.

Darknet and Cryptocurrency

NCB's Delhi unit seized 15 lakh Tramadol tablets, a controlled drug, and 8,000 bottles of Codeine, an opioid, in June 2021. It was found that the deal had been carried over the dark net, an overlay network within the internet, accessed through specific software and configuration.

In Kolkata, 25 kilograms of ganja in 54 parcels were seized in July. An NCB probe revealed that Bitcoin was used in the transaction.

Shipment of drugs through parcel service

Year, cases

2017, 27

2018, 40

2019, 67

2020, 260 

2021, 146

The sea route

Smuggling of drugs through the sea, the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, has also become rampant. Available statistics said 70 per cent of such illegal shipments to India were through the sea. Most of the drugs originated from Afghanistan and Iran.

Besides selling the banned substances in India, smugglers have been using the country's coast as transit points before shipping the drugs to the Maldives and Sri Lanka. The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, NCB, Gujarat police, and Anti-terrorism squad Gujarat had seized 3959.45 kilograms of heroin and 303.4 kilograms of cocaine in different incidents in 2021.

Drugs, origin and route

Opium: Painkillers such as morphine are produced from opium. These are used as drugs to get a high also. Opium is largely smuggled to other parts of the country from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. Manipur, West Bengal, Jammu Kashmir, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand and Gujarat are the main transit points.

Heroin: This highly addictive analgesic drug is derived from morphine. Heroin is mostly smuggled in through the Indo-Pakistan borders in Punjab and Jammu Kashmir. Heroin from southwestern Asian countries are shipped in through the sea. Large heroin hauls were reported from Punjab, Delhi, and UP.

Ganja: Ganja is mostly brought in by road from the northeastern States. Authorities busted large smuggling rackets in Odisha, Himachal Pradesh and India-Nepal border areas. Assam, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, UP, Nagaland, Maharashtra, and Chhattisgarh are also included in ganja's route map.

Hashish: Also known as charas, Hashish is a byproduct of ganja. It reaches several parts of the country from Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Nepal.

Cocaine: The substance is flown in from Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Bolivia and Peru, mostly by African nationals. Cocaine from Afghanistan, too, has been smuggled into the country. The latest trend is to bring cocaine in liquid form. The quantity seized in 2021 alone was four times higher than those confiscated in the preceding four years.

The opium fields

Authorities destroyed large 'plantations' of opium in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Jammu Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh in 2021.

Ganja plantations in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Odisha, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu Kashmir, Tripura, and Telangana were also destroyed.

Opium and ganja plantations destroyed in the past five years (in acres):

Year, Opium, Ganja

2017, 7602, 8515

2018, 10819, 8476

2019, 10386, 22297

2020, 10769, 21559

2021, 10798, 27510

New-generation drugs

Stimulants such as Amphetamines (ATS), precursor chemicals, prescription medicines, and new psychotropic substances are now common in India. 

Foreigners arrested: 345

Nepal 115

Nigeria 87

Myanmar 22

Sri Lanka 17

Uganda 15

Afghanistan 14

Iran 13

Tanzania 12

Pakistan 10

Zambia 7

South Africa 5

Zimbabwe 5

Ghana 5

Ivory Coast 4

Kenya 3

Mozambique  2

Germany 2

Cameroon, Congo, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Switzerland, the UK: One each

Psychotropic substances seized in Kerala

(between January 1 and September 1, 2022)

Substance, Quantity

Ganja, 3104.8 kg

Spirit, 11,907 litre

Hashish, 33.199 kg

Heroin, 0.129 kg

MDMA, 5.714 kg

LSD, 25.193 gram

Meth, 0.883 kg

(Source: Excise dept)

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