Published: January 6, 2016 - 16:02

Punjab is faced with a serious crisis. Drugs have become synonymous with the business and political classes. Narcotics are coming in, and a multibillion-crore-rupee international cartel is sending them out as well 

When the Punjab police stopped a white Toyota Innova on March 3, 2013, they stumbled onto something big. Just how big was revealed only months later.

According to the FIR filed at Police Station (PS) Fatehgarh Sahib, in the car were an NRI, Anoop Singh Kahlon, and his associate, Kulwinder Singh. Searching the vehicle, the police discovered 540 gm of heroin, along with a million rupees, and US and Canadian dollars amounting to nearly $10,000. Their post-arrest confession led to a further seizure of more than 16 kg of heroin from behind a false ceiling in Kulwinder’s house.

According to the FIR filed in PS Banur, Patiala, two months later, in an unrelated arrest, the Punjab police busted the largest drug cartel in the country. Acting on a tip from an informant, police stopped Satinder Singh and Baljinder Singh Sonu in their Hyundai Verna. The search of the car revealed a kilo of methamphetamine (popularly called ICE). Under interrogation, the men named Jagdish Bhola, who was arrested in November 2013. On the basis of Bhola’s confession, the police added Jagjit Chahal and his brother, Paramjit, to the net. As the extent of the network was slowly unveiled, they realised that the first bust had led them to one of India’s largest international drug syndicates.

Bhola revealed in his remand application that the Chahals synthesised methamphetamine in their cough syrup factories in Baddi and Village Jodhapur Barotiwala, Solan. (Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, ingredients in cough syrup, are also used to make synthetic drugs.) From there, the ICE would be transported to Canada. Since then the case against the brothers has fallen apart as they have alleged that it was a conspiracy by the police. Their trial was stayed in November 2014.

The court has put the onus on the police to prove the case, citing mismanagement and procedural lapses. 

Reminiscent of Pablo Escobar’s Colombian cartel, the gang mostly shipped the illegal drugs as air cargo. During the arrest of Anoop, the police recovered special bags used by the cartel that would be undetected by sniffer dogs and x-ray machines. The cartel has been accused of supplying drugs to North America and Europe, through contacts in Canada. In addition, Interpol has issued nine red corner notices to Indo-Canadians for alleged involvement in the racket by assisting the smuggling.

 Meanwhile, taking the stand in his own trial, Bhola alleged a nexus between the cartel and local politicians. In a 16-page letter to the Enforcement Directorate, he named Punjab Revenue Minister Bikram Majithia. He also alleged that Majithia was the one who introduced him to the Chahals. Since then, the name of Majithia has been dropped from the challan and he has been given a clean chit. The case has dented the political image of the Akali Dal. It has led to a three-way political feud between the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party.

 The Enforcement Directorate is still investigating the case. The involvement of other Akali Dal leaders and other businessmen in this case has not been ruled out. Most recently, the case has seen the arrest of former SAD leader Chunni Lal Gabba. The Punjab police found a huge cache of drugs in his pharmaceutical companies, local newspapers have reported.

 As of 2014, Punjab police have recovered more than 1,200 kg of methamphetamine. They have registered 14,482 associated criminal cases and made over 17,000 arrests. While serious efforts have been made to curb drug addiction, the youth has faced the brunt.

 A large percentage of the youth of the state has been involved in both consumption and selling of drugs; roughly 10% of the youth is in prison for drug-related crimes. “Unemployment is becoming a serious problem in the state, the state is being turned into a corporation,” says Dr Mohinder Singh, director, Bhai Vir Singh Sahitya Sadan.

 Rampant unemployment amongst the youth has created surplus labour for smuggling these drugs. The bulk of these drugs are sent abroad. Technological improvements, such as specially built bags, have allowed drugs to be transported in huge volumes while avoiding detection.

Apart from locally made ICE, heroin flows freely into Punjab from across the border from Pakistan. Researchers at local universities have been studying the growing import into the state, and in a conversation with some people who requested anonymity, Hardnews learnt that there are thousands of acres of land near the border, with villages being surrounded by Pakistani villages on three sides, where farmers simply carry empty bags to the border and throw them across to their Pakistani counterparts to fill with heroin and then carry the bags back. 

Drugs have been a major problem for Punjab for many years now. But these developments suggest that the state has now turned into a transnational drug hub, with many drugs coming in from Pakistan and another type being manufactured and sent out to the rest of
the world.   

Punjab is faced with a serious crisis. Drugs have become synonymous with the business and political classes. Narcotics are coming in, and a multibillion-crore-rupee international cartel is sending them out as well
Abeer Kapoor Delhi 

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This story is from print issue of HardNews