By Dhiren Sehgal and Armin Rosencranz*
Dubbed as India’s granary mostly because of the agricultural prowess and the quality of its food products, the state of Punjab is now seen as a haven for drug traffickers because of its geographical proximity to the states of the ‘Golden Crescent’ (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran). Their illegal opium production has made India, and specifically the state of Punjab, extremely vulnerable to the most voluminous trafficking of heroin throughout the country. This has been steadily increasing since the 1980’s, when the drugs began to be redirected through India since the traditional Balkan route had to be shut because of Iran-Iraq war.
Punjab accounts for half the cases which are registered in India under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, and for one-fifth of the heroin seizures in India. As of September 2014 , the Punjab police had already seized around 450 kilos of heroin, and 13,000 people have been arrested in trafficking and selling the drug. According to some independent studies, it was found that approximately 70% of the youth in Punjab between 16-35 years of age seems to be gripped by the devastating drug addiction, a direct cause of the ever proliferating drug trade and trafficking across the Indo-Pak border.
Drugs are packed and sealed before crossing the border from Pakistan to India by throwing them across the fence on predetermined and decided spots for pickups. Sometimes, the drugs are bundled separately and the bundles are tied together and are inserted through the fence or even through an underground tunnel within rubber tubes, with a thread dangling on the other side to pull the drugs out.
These appalling statistics come as no surprise when the investigations uncover and bring to the surface the links between drug traffickers and politicians in the drug racket. This has aided in crippling the generation of addicts not only in Punjab, but in India as well. Addicts and former police personnel who were involved in the illicit drug trade have confirmed the involvement and linkage of political activists and drug peddlers in the state.
Jagdish Singh Bhola , who was suspended from the post of Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) due to his involvement in the drug trafficking racket, has confirmed that he is a mere pawn in the hierarchy of organized drug trafficking machinery in the state of Punjab. Not only did he confess about the existence of such a machinery, but he also went on to accuse Bikram Singh Majithia, the Revenue Minister of Punjab, for his involvement in this illicit trade.
On further investigation of Jagdish Singh Bhola, who is believed to be the mastermind of the drug racket, some political and business ties to the drug racket also unraveled. On his confession, a Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader, Maninder Singh Aulakh, was apprehended and questioned. It was revealed during his interrogation that State Government vehicles were used for drug trafficking and smuggling. Also, it was clearly established by the Patiala State Senior Police Superintendent, Hardial Singh Mann, that there were synthetic drug supply chains and that the smuggling of such drugs was directly funding the State Assembly elections.
The Enforcement Directorate (ED), the body carrying the investigations into the drug racket, had circulated a statement made by Jagdish Singh Bhola, in which he has alleged that two people, namely Bikram Singh Majithia and the son of Sarwan Singh Phillaur (the State’s Minister for Jails, Tourism and Cultural Affairs) have ties and links to drug lords. This led to Sarwan Singh Phillaur stepping down from his post in the wake of his son’s name being embroiled in the investigation.
In the aftermath of these unraveling events, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi too expressed his concern pertaining to the drug menace in Punjab on his ‘Mann Ki Baat’ address on All India Radio on December 14, 2014. However, it has only been a mere acknowledgement and there hasn’t been any response by the Prime Minister since then. It has been almost a year and half since he last spoke on the issue, and the talk sounds more like a wishlist rather than a call for action.
A former Director General of Police in Punjab reacted to the speech on drug menace by the Prime Minister, saying that he had written to the PM, the Home Minister and the National Security Advisor (NSA), telling them that he is willing to provide them with the necessary information regarding the drug menace and the involvement of politicians and police in it. But there hasn’t been any response by the Central Government on this matter yet.
The former Chief Minister of Punjab, Capt. Amrinder Singh has also claimed writing to and urging the Modi government to take action and formulate a national drug policy curbing interstate trafficking. But to Capt. Singh’s dismay, the PM has only acknowledged receiving the letter from him and no further action has been taken as of yet.
This insight clearly tells of a compelling, complicated and a very intricately designed and organized hierarchical structure of drug trafficking and smuggling across the borders and within the state of Punjab. It indicates that the ruling political alliance of BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) and SAD is using the powers in their hands to cripple the population of Punjab with debilitating drug addictions. They are trying to ensure their survival as the ruling State government by feeding addictions to achieve a guaranteed and sizeable vote bank.
It is shocking to look at the state machinery where drug smugglers are funding elections and campaigns on the expense of the prosperity, health and the future of an entire state. It is a vicious racket being run by the drug traffickers who are aided by the local police and political authorities. It is dangerous for the general population of voters who are unknowingly funding and voting for the very entity that is bound to cripple them for life. This is how the State’s so-called machinery is inherently and internally incapacitating the youth and the future of the State.
Because of the cross border influx of some of the purest heroin into India via Afghanistan and Pakistan, Punjab is being used as a pit stop for drug smuggling and trafficking. A lot of heroin that enters Punjab via the Golden Crescent is further smuggled across the country and even overseas toward the West. This is because a lot of heroine which was shipped overseas from Pakistan itself is being redirected to the major Indian ports of Mumbai and Kolkata. Bangalore too has surprisingly emerged as an air exporter of the drug to Singapore and Malaysia. The South-West Asian heroin that is smuggled via the Indo-Pak borders is subsequently being sent to the United States of America as the drug is rapidly becoming the most consumed heroin in the US, far more than the Mexican heroin which used to be the most consumed in the US prior to stricter cross border trafficking laws.
This South-West Asian heroin entering the United States is being smuggled in legitimately concealed couriers on airlines and ships departing from major Indian ports via the Indian ocean. These carriers enter West Africa and then proceed across the Atlantic to North America. Consequently, this influx of heroin from the Golden Crescent nations has made India one of the major global exporters and traffickers of heroin. Drastic measures must be taken to stop this cross border smuggling into and from India to overseas. There is a need of a stricter vigilance regime on the borders of Indian and Pakistan, and a consolidated national drug policy to put an end to this redirection of drugs through India so that India can stop catering to the global obsession with the most addictive drug on the planet.
Dhiren Sehgal is a final year student at Jindal Global Law School, Sonipat, where Armin Rosencranz is his professor.