Drug Trafficking in West Bengal, Higher than Afghanistan
| Didhiti Ghosh - 11 Nov 2018

Drug Trafficking in West Bengal, Higher than Afghanistan

Exclusive Interview with Dilip Srivastava, Zonal Director, Narcotics Control Bureau, Kolkata by Didhiti Ghosh

The eastern Indian state of West Bengal that contributes to almost 45 pc of the country’s child trafficking cases is also emerging as a major hub of Drug Trafficking. “Drug trafficking is rising at a very alarming rate in West Bengal. According to records, West Bengal has the highest amount of drug-related backlashes. In 2015-2016, in the Maldah district of West Bengal the NCB has come across illegal poppy cultivation being carried out across 11,000 acres of land. The amount of opium derived from this region was close to 7 lac kgs, which outweighs the amount smuggled by similar racquets in countries like Afghanistan, where such incidents are also very common,” says Dilip Srivastava, Zonal Director, Narcotics Control Bureau, Kolkata in an Exclusive Interview with the Senior Correspondent of Indian Observer Post (IOP) based in Kolkata.

Here are the Excerpts of Dilip Srivastava’s Interview:  

 

  • Would you comment on the present state of West Bengal when it comes to the aspect of substance abuse?

With the proliferation of economic transactions between WB & other Indian states, my experience tells me that the amount of drug trafficking, especially of that concerning illegal hard drugs is also rising. The same is a magnifying trend as we have seen in the past few years since I was posted here in 2015. However, much has come under our control with the prompt support from the present state government (Trinamool Congress) and with stricter control laws during the festive seasons, when the frequency of trafficking sharply rises.

  • What are the kinds of drugs that are usually abused in West Bengal?

It varies from region to region, and the season also determines which drug will fetch the largest profit for the traffickers. Usually, the most frequently abused drugs fall in the category of natural drugs like hashish and synthetic psychedelic stimulants like methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), more commonly known as ecstasy. Apart from this, hallucinogens like lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) and stimulant narcotics like cocaine are frequently abused in this region.

  • Are there any instances of prescription pill abuse?

Yes, there are instances of prescription pill abuse, but in contrast to the popular notion of youth drugs, this is more common among the elderly who have easier access to having prescriptions from their doctors. When we have cases suspecting the presence of a mental symptom behind the cause of abuse, we refer them to psychiatrists and psychologists who come up with better solutions for these individuals.

There is a significant problem with the manufacturing of cough syrups, as much of the population can be seen abusing it regularly to get effects similar to legal but costlier central nervous system depressants like alcohol. Most of these are transported to the Bangladesh border, where they are sold at much higher rates, almost 10 times more than the original cost of the bottle.

  • Would you like to mention any specific case related to over-the-counter drug abuse which you have personally experienced?

Yes, the narcotics control team has come across such a case very recently when in 2016, we discovered a West Bengal based drug trafficking racquet involved in smuggling codeine-based cough syrups to Bangladesh. Our team in a joint pursuit along with the border security force and aide from the state government found out that around 1 lac bottles of cough syrup were smuggled to Bangladesh in one instance.

After I joined, we have uncovered a total of 2 lacs 50,000 bottles of codeine-based cough syrups involved in interstate trafficking.

Buprenorphine, an opioid prescription drug is often abused and has a good amount of illegal trafficking from Maldah to Bangladesh because of restrictions in the manufacture of codeine-based cough syrups in West Bengal. Added to this is the prescription drug by the name of Tramadol.

  • How does the Narcotics Control Bureau manage such incidents? Putting a ban on cough syrups might produce a counter revolt from those who genuinely require it.

You are absolutely right, and the same is the reason why we have to be very specific in taking decisions. Most often our team contacts the manufacturers of these medicines and puts a restriction on their sale and area of distribution. The reason why such products get smuggled is because of the codeine content that these syrups contain. In Bangladesh, very few over-the-counter cough syrups contain codeine, an opiate which produces analgesic effects, in comparison to West Bengal. Cough syrups are very frequently taken by alcohol abusers which make it apparent that these two products run parallel in the substance dependence scenario.

  • Talking of the states which are under your control, i.e. West Bengal, Sikkim, Orissa and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, where can we find the most rampant abuse of drugs in general?

As of recent records, West Bengal has the highest amount of drug-related backlashes. In 2015-2016, in the Maldah district of West Bengal the NCB has come across illegal poppy cultivation being carried out across 11,000 acres of land. The amount of opium derived from this region was close to 7 lac kgs, which outweighs the amount smuggled by similar racquets in countries like Afghanistan, where such incidents are also very common. We arrested one kingpin in this incident in October 2016, and the NCB successfully destroyed 4,000 acres of illegal poppy cultivation. TMC Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee helped us a lot in this pursuit as some influential gangs were not letting us penetrate the region easily and even now the remaining 7 acres of illegal cultivation are yet to be controlled more strictly.

  • How much of the country’s finance does the drug biz deal with?

A lot of money is involved in illegal trafficking, and the amount reaches crores of rupees annually. The illegal rate of 1 kg of heroin produced from 10kgs of poppy is more than 2 crores rupees, and this trade mostly takes place between India and the neighbouring North-Eastern states like Bangladesh and Nepal.

Methamphetamine (locally called yaba) which is around Rs 60 in Kolkata is sold at Rs 600 to Rs 800 after reaching Bangladesh, an increment of almost 10 to 13 times the original price. Buprenorphine, which costs around Rs 15 per ml, is sold at around Rs 300 to Rs 400 per ml after crossing the country’s borders.As I mentioned earlier, the cost of a bottle of cough syrup which is around Rs 115 in West Bengal can be sold at a rate of Rs 800 in Bangladesh after crossing the India-Bangladesh border. Most of the people involved in such activities are the unemployed youth, who fail to find jobs and resort to the apparently lucrative trafficking deals.

  • Considering the aspect that much of the younger generation is involved in illegal trafficking, do you have any personal experience as in West Bengal?

Here in Kolkata most of the drugs consumed fall in the category of synthetic narcotics like LSD& MDMA, and sometimes cocaine & hashish. The NCB has booked around 18 such cases in 2017-2018, and 4 DJs of some popular Kolkata nightclubs were arrested in 2018.  We even busted a case where 2 teenage girls from a rich family were arrested with the charges of possessing and dealing with LSD. There are rampant reports of drug abuse in schools, colleges and universities throughout West Bengal, and it is surprising that the management does not take stringent steps to control it.

The paradox today is that youth from many educated families are getting involved in dealing with drugs, which makes us question the basic value of education. Under these circumstances, I feel that there must be a change in perspectives where the youth must learn the importance of living a safe and responsible life, and more so that we teach them moral values more than material values.

  • With floating conversations around that certain social media platforms are helping to spread rumours and wrong information, do you think that the people involved are utilizing these to secure the drug biz too?

Absolutely, I agree with you. The NCB has traced some groups dealing with drugs that are using certain software to avoid being tracked by the police. They are using cryptocurrency to make the financial transactions of the business, so that we cannot track which party has made the payment to whom.

We have teamed up with the National Technical Research Organization, the technical intelligence agency under the National Security Advisor in the Prime Minister’s Office, which helped us in tracking these racquets. Only in 2018 we tracked 15 such cases in Kolkata, and the city is much under control now.

  • What kinds of legal measures do the police take against these illegal acts?

The police go for non-bailable cases so that people understand the risks involved in this business. In 2016, the police gave a death by hanging sentence in a case where a racquet was busted with 53 kgs of heroin, which was the first such case in eastern India. The sad part is that people are finding various ways to carry on illegal trafficking, and we as the police can only control them, but not stop them from getting involved in drugs.

The NCB along with the government has put a ban on the manufacture of several drugs, but it is not the NCB’s duty to restrict the entry of drugs in the states – the concerned departments must take the necessary actions related to the matter. My experience says that working together we have been able to and still can bring about further positive change to what exists in the drug business in India at present.

 

(Didhiti Ghosh is the Senior Correspondent of Indian Observer Post based in Kolkata. She is also a script-writer, content-writer, psychologist, professor and a certified translator-interpreter of the Spanish language. As a psychologist, Didhiti Ghosh is an ardent advocate of engendering positive mental health in the society, and among the present generation youth at large. She has been involved in organizing youth mental health & anti-drug abuse campaigns in and around Kolkata in collaboration with educational institutions in Bengal and The National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore. Contact: didhiti.24@gmail.com)


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