NH 766 via Wayanad emerges as hot route for inter-state MDMA smuggling

The Muthanga checkpost on National Highway 766 in Wayanad. Photo: Special arrangement

Wayanad: The National Highway 766 connecting Bengaluru and Kozhikode via Wayanad has emerged as a hot route for drug smugglers and law enforcement agencies.

Since 2021, drug seizures along the route have increased substantially and the most dangerous of the contraband frequently found in raids is MDMA (methylenedioxy-methylamphetamine), a highly potent synthetic drug.

In 2021, the Excise Department seized 237.65 grams of MDMA. But a year later, there was an almost seven-time increase in the seizure of the drug with the Excise figures showing 1611.76 grams.

This year, the latest figures suggest that the drug mafia has become more active. But law enforcement agencies, including the police department, have upped their game too with 1756.8 grams seized till July 14.

The perusal of the data with the Excise Deputy Commissioner, Kalpetta reveals that till June 30 this year, the particular agency alone seized 749 grams. The District Narcotics Cell data shows that the police department confiscated 868 grams. In addition, the two agencies combined to seize a further 139.8 grams by July 14.

Like the Excise, the police too have been busy as their numbers suggest. According to the district narcotics cell of police, in 2021, the cops seized 38 grams of MDMA. In 2022, it was 151 grams. The quantity seized by the Wayanad police this year – till May 30 – is a staggering 868 grams.

Representational image: Canva

130 arrests in two-and-a-half years
There has also been a significant increase in the number of arrests. In the last two-and-a-half years, 130 were arrested for attempting to smuggle in MDMA.

In 2021, the district police made one MDMA seizure leading to one arrest. But in 2022, the cases shot up to 35 and so did the arrests: 88. Till May this year, 21 MDMA cases and 42 arrests have been recorded by the district police.

According to MU Balakrishnan, DySP, Narcotics Cell, Kalpetta, there has been a significant rise in the number of seizures for commercial users. “Considering the addiction potential of drugs, MDMA seizure of 10 gms and above is considered commercial quantity, which would fetch a punishment of 10 years to 20 years of rigorous imprisonment with a fine. Whereas, for lesser quantity, that is between 5gm and 10gm, the punishment is up to 10 years,” said DySP Balakrishnan.

Compared with ganja seizures, the penalty for smuggling 0.5 grams of MDMA is equal to 1 kg ganja. In the case of ganja smuggling, quantities above 20kg are treated as commercial.

Odourless and costly chemical
The authorities say MDMA is an odourless chemical and peddlers attempt to smuggle the drug by hiding in vehicles and even inside clothes.

The total value of the seizures this year is estimated at Rs 35 lakh, but the figures could go up to Rs 53 lakh, say the police. The drug is priced between Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 per gram locally and between Rs 800 and Rs 1000/gram wholesale in Bengaluru.

MDMA is a highly potent odourless crystal. Possessing even 5grams can result in upto 10 years imprisonment. File photo: Manorama

Smugglers get upto Rs 20,000 per 10gm
MA Santhosh, Inspector, Sulthan Bathery, says the drugs seized are merely the tip of the iceberg as the real flow is manifold higher. “There are many youngsters engaged in drug smuggling as it assures Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000 as profit for smuggling just 10 gms of MDMA,” Santhosh said.

The inspector says the smugglers' clientele is as wide as school students, both girls and boys, to middle-aged men.

According to the authorities, there has been a shift in trend among drug users of late. While ganja, hashish and LSD stamps were the drugs in demand earlier, MDMA has taken over. The drug mafia has production units and well-knit distribution networks, the authorities said.

Easy to hide, tough to unearth
An Excise officer said they have seized MDMA from unusual places inside vehicles that are often modified to include secret hiding spots. Drugs have been seized from under the seats, inside the tyres, tubes and rims and even at the bottom of the engine. “We depend on the intelligence network to identify the culprits, said the officer, who prefers anonymity.

Women smugglers and male cops
According to the police, women smugglers pose a different problem. For a team of male cops, frisking a female suspect, for hidden contraband, is out of the equation. “It is tough as often there would be no women cops at the inter-state check posts,” an officer said.

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Representational image: Canva

“During the pandemic days, city-based food delivery boys had turned to pick-up and dropping of other stuff to sustain,” he said.

District Police Chief, Padam Singh told Onmanorama that as the majority of operators prefer to be in the neighboring states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu it is tough for the officials to track them. “We have a multi-pronged action plan,” he said. Singh says they have strengthened the intelligence network and have launched awareness programmes focused on schools to reduce the demand for drugs at the grassroots level.

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