Saturday, 29 September 2007

Drug-haul cover-up?

Drug-haul cover-up?

The Narcotics Control Bureau is sitting tight on an important investigation even as illegal drug use in the country shows an upward trend
Akash Bisht Delhi

On the day when the BJP leader Pramod Mahajan was shot dead by his brother, another news item was jostling for the headlines. The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) seized 200 kgs of cocaine, worth Rs 500 crore, tucked inside a container that had come from Hong Kong to the Jawahar Lal Nehru Port, Mumbai. While the Mahajan saga continued to occupy prime space on television and in newspapers, the record drug haul story mysteriously disappeared.

More than ten months later, this drug haul is being discussed in hushed tones in political and enforcement circles. Suggestions of shady Indian companies pulling strings to rescue the cocaine from the maalkhana (police storehouse) are going around. There are even rumours that crooks are replacing the cocaine with talcum powder.

Even though this allegation may be far-fetched, the truth is that the enforcement agencies have not really tried to get to the bottom of the cocaine haul. There is no clarity as to who sent it and for whom. The NCB claims that the ship, after leaving Ecuador, stopped at Japan, Shanghai and Hong Kong ports, before reaching Mumbai. Although sources say the drugs were eventually headed for Spain, the NCB has refused to comment on their likely destination. According to an NCB official, "No investigation was done after the seizure. No official was sent to Ecuador to find out about the people involved in this. Since the consignment was not meant for India, not much investigation was needed." But no answers are forthcoming to the disturbing question about why this sensational seizure is being hushed up.

It took the NCB 15 years to zero in on Kanoui Julian, a French national who is a notorious drug supplier and has been on the most wanted list for a long time. Julian was finally caught by the NCB in New Delhi earlier this month. Documents pertaining to a container that was sent to Belgium were recovered from his possession. Julian, in his statement made during interrogation, also revealed that he has been shipping more than five containers of hashish worth crores of rupees, every year, from India to various European destinations.

In spite of these dramatic disclosures, NCB officials insist that India is no longer a transit point for drug traffickers, because of the fencing of the LoC between India and Pakistan. "The drug trafficking in Asia has been taken over by Albanians and now most of the drugs from Afghanistan are first sent to Albania and then to Russia, from where they enter Europe," said Shankar Rao, head of the Delhi zone of the NCB.

If the NCB is to be believed, most of the drug cartels operating in India have already been busted and only small time peddlers remain. Officials from the agency say the north-eastern states are witnessing a downward trend in heroin abuse, mainly due to the AIDS scare and the traumatic withdrawal symptoms experienced by addicts deprived of the drug.

However, there is an upward trend in the consumption of pharmaceutical drugs, especially cough syrups, in the same region. Cities like Ludhiana and Chandigarh and the countryside in Punjab are also witnessing massive cocaine abuse while Goa and Mumbai continue to show a high degree of party drugs consumption. Cocaine, ecstasy and vile are the drugs of choice for high-profile celebrities — especially those from the fashion fraternity. "Mumbai and Goa are famous for rave parties where a lot of these so-called party drugs are used. These posh parties are held secretly and it is difficult to know about their whereabouts. A lot of teenagers from influential families have started to experiment with these drugs and their numbers are growing," emphasised Rao.

However, the NCB’s claims of busting drug cartels and decreased drug use in India are not being treated seriously by the US government’s Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The DEA has reservations about the Indian government’s drug enforcement programme and the continuing export of poppy and its derivatives from licit areas of cultivation. Even reports from the Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare suggest that the problem of drug addiction in the country is very serious.

No comments: