Punjab emerges a major transit route for drugs from SW Asia

The recent drug haul in Punjab worth Rs 130 crore, would perhaps have gone on inside pages of newspapers and not been much of a ‘Breaking News’ for TV channels but for the alleged involvement of Olympian boxer Vijender Singh.

In a way, the boxers’ involvement in the case, however big or limited it may eventually turn out to be, has brought to the centre-stage the growing magnitude of the drug trade that Punjab encounters. That this border state is fast turning into a major transit route for drugs from South West Asian countries -- with the contraband seizures far exceeding any other border state in India -- has been underlined many times. The problem now seems to be really getting worse.

Agrarian state Punjab shares a 550-km international border with Pakistan. These porous borders with Pakistan are manned by the Border Security Force (BSF). Drug recoveries in Punjab in the last five years are nearly 50 per cent of the total national recoveries.
According to the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), of the total amount of heroin seized in the country last year, majority was seized in Punjab. Of the 23 significant seizures of heroin made in the country by the NCB in 2012, a high of 12 were from Punjab alone. From Punjab’s border districts, in the last three years between 2010 and 2012, the BSF recovered a whopping 418 kg of heroin. 

The mindboggling seizures are just of the high prices heroine. Other contrabands add to a sizable crisis. Not long ago in 2009, the Punjab government had submitted before the Punjab and Haryana high court that of all the narcotics transited through the country, around 40 per cent are through Punjab. 

It’s a big trade involving big money. Punjab falls in the line of the international drug trafficking zone dubbed as the ‘Golden Crescent.’ It is a major transit and destination point for drugs coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Estimates suggest that the illicit drug trade in Punjab may well be worth over Rs 5,000 crore per annum. Heroin, which starts from Afghanistan at Rs 1 lakh a kg becomes five times costlier on landing in Punjab and in international destination westward, it’s worth Rs 1 crore a kg or even more.

Porous borders

Punjab’s borders with Pakistan are long and porous, and that certainly cannot an excuse. The drug flow from Pakistan into India through the Punjab border has been as simple as throwing packets of drugs across the fence, and as complex as cracking organised international cartels that operate within and outside our borders. An easy catch -- like a few weeks ago when the BSF picked up two packets of one kgs each of heroine hurled into Indian Punjab from across the border--exposes deeper nexus and collusion with people in Indian settlement close or faraway from Punjab borders.  The rail and road link on the Punjab border too has been used to smuggle in heroine. Significantly, of the 235 kg recovered between January-October last year, 105 kg was seized from the goods trains coming from Pakistan.

Trans-border drug smuggling and abuse in Punjab, according to the director general of Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) Rajiv Mehta, is a very serious problem. “Punjab is a very serious problem as far as drug smuggling from across the border and its abuse in the state is concerned. We have recently upgraded our official capacities in Punjab by deploying senior officers for coordination purposes,” Mehta said.

The multi-crore drug haul in Punjab, in which the Olympian medal winners name cropped up primarily as a client for now, has its roots spread in several western countries, investigations reveal. Its Canadian NRI kingpin, Annop Singh Kahlon, arrested in the case, travelled several times last year to western nations for drug paddling, the police said.

Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal blames the Centre strongly maintaining that it is the central agencies (BSF and others) that need to curb flow of drugs into Punjab from the borders. Heroine is one deadly drug, but there are others. The CM says Punjab suffers from even neighboring Rajesthan. Unlike in Punjab and many other states, Rajasthan has licensed poppy fields. In 2012, in Rajasthan alone, close to fifty thousand new licences were issued to farmers for cultivating a huge area for puppy. The Narcotics Bureau is supposed to destroy excess produce for controlled usage, but leakages into Punjab through rail-road links have continued for some time now. Dried poppy husk and extracts fetch much more than the what producers in Rajasthan get.

Punjab’s burgeoning drug crisis has had an inevitable fallouts. Its youth have turned drug addicts, at least a lot of them. The State Disaster Management Plan states that some 73.5 per cent of the state’s youth between 16 and 35 years are affected by drugs. Punjab heartland cries for intervention. The last thing this border state would like to see is many more Maqboolpura’s -- a village with an estimated 400 widows and 900 orphan kids who’ve lost one dear member of the family to drug abuse.

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