Punjab’s drug haul shows it’s a safe transit point

February 24th, 2009 - 12:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Chandigarh, Feb 24 (IANS) With security and anti-narcotics agencies in Punjab seizing nearly 500 kg of drugs including heroin in just over a year, the state has emerged a safe transit point for drug peddlers, a fact that has acquired sharp focus since the arrest of a senior police official on drug smuggling charges.

With links of the well-oiled drug peddling racket in the state being established with people in neighbouring Pakistan and even Afghanistan, where the heroin originates, anti-narcotics agencies in the state have their hands full in dealing with the illegal trade.

“The seizure of nearly 500 kg of heroin and other drugs in recent months is a clear indicator that Punjab has become a safe transit point for such drug trade. If this volume has been seized, imagine what would have made its way through Punjab to other places in the country,” a senior Punjab police official told IANS here on condition of anonymity.

“The drugs seized by all agencies in the state are worth billions of rupees in the international market,” the police officer added.

Officials admit that compared to these seizures, at least 10 times more could be easily making its way without being detected.

In just 10 days this year (Jan 25-Feb 3), various agencies like the Border Security Force (BSF), Customs and Punjab Police seized nearly 37 kg of heroin from the state’s border belt adjoining Pakistan.

In 2008 alone, the Punjab police seized over 200 kg of heroin from the state. The seizure by the state police in 2007 was 92 kg and in 2006 it was 54 kg - clearly showing the growing drugs transit across the state.

In 2007, the BSF, which mans the 553-km barbed wire fenced border with Pakistan, had seized 99 kg of heroin from the state. The BSF and the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) seized another 10 kg heroin from Chandigarh in a joint operation.

“We have been paying special attention along the entire border belt with Pakistan. Smugglers on both sides of the fence have been active in drugs smuggling and our seizures have shown that the drug trade could have increased,” a BSF commandant near Amritsar told IANS.

Most of the heroin, cocaine and other drugs are meant for lucrative markets in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and other places, officials of anti-narcotics agencies say.

Major hauls in Punjab in recent months include 50 kg of heroin in the industrial town of Phagwara, 20 km from Jalandhar, in December last year by Punjab Police, 55 kg from smugglers in Amritsar district in September by the central Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), and 50 kg by Punjab Police from a terrorist in Phagwara town in April last year.

In April 2008, various agencies like the DRI, Punjab Police and the BSF seized nearly 100 kg of heroin and other drugs in the state.

The DRI nabbed a youth leader of the ruling Akali Dal, Pushottam Sondhi, from Amritsar international airport in March last year while he was trying to smuggle 26 kg of heroin to Canada on an international flight.

A Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) youth wing leader, Navjot Arora, was nabbed by the DRI in Phagwara with three kilograms of cocaine and 11 kg of heroin. The drugs haul was valued at nearly Rs.1 billion (Rs.100 crore).

An elderly Non-Resident Indian (NRI) couple from Nakodar town in Jalandhar district was caught from Amritsar airport recently after 3.7 kg of heroin was recovered from their checked-in baggage. They were headed to Toronto in Canada.

Two Indian nationals returning from Pakistan were nabbed by customs officials at the Attari railway station in Amritsar’s border belt from the Samjhauta Express train between India and Pakistan. They were carrying 14 kg of heroin. In July last year, six kilograms of heroin was recovered from the same train from India-bound passengers.

In September last year, DRI officials caught a consignment of six kilograms of heroin from a vehicle near Ludhiana. The drug was hidden among religious books being sent to Delhi.

Even foreign nationals are part of the drugs network operating in the state. Two Nigerians, one of them a student near Chandigarh and the second a tourist, were arrested from Rayya town near Amritsar Feb 1 this year with five kilograms of heroin. Another Nigerian was arrested by Punjab Police from the border belt of Amritsar in November 2007 with 10 kg of heroin.

The NCB caught an Israeli national, Avi Ben Moyal, from here in February 2005 for being involved in drug smuggling.

The NCB, which claimed to have recovered 52 kg of heroin in recent months in the region, had to face embarrassment when its former zonal director and senior Indian Police Service (IPS) officer Saji Mohan was arrested by Mumbai Police with several kilograms of heroin.

Much of the drugs recovered from his possession in Mumbai is believed to have been pilfered from seizures made during his controversial tenure in Chandigarh.

In Amritsar district, the police and other agencies have moved cases of attachment and sale of properties of 33 known drug smugglers of the area who have been arrested in recent years.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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