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HindustanTimes Sat,30 Aug 2014

Mumbai: For some, coke says 'we've arrived'

Presley Thomas, Hindustan Times  Mumbai, March 16, 2013
First Published: 23:18 IST(16/3/2013) | Last Updated: 23:20 IST(16/3/2013)

In the 1980s, it was a bottle of Black Label that was the ultimate status symbol.

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Today, walk into a high-society party, soiree or sangeet ceremony in Mumbai and chances are you will spot at least a few traces of cocaine.

Amid growing pay packets and rising stress levels among users, gangsters such as Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Rajan, whose extensive networks peddled ganja and hashish in the city's back alleys in the '80s and '90s, are now being joined by globalising Colombian cartels such as Cali and Escobar, eager to exploit Mumbai's growing market.

"These gangs have shifted their focus following crackdowns in their traditional domain of the Americas. Europe had also become saturated, resulting in drug cartels looking for new markets even more urgently," says an officer from the Mumbai branch of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB). "India, particularly Mumbai and Delhi, make for ideal targets, given the growing disposable incomes here and the growing popularity of high-end drugs such as cocaine, despite the retail price of Rs. 5,000 to Rs. 7,000 a gram."

Just how much these global cartels are smuggling into Mumbai became clear in 2006, when a single seizure at the city's Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust compound yielded 200 kg of cocaine.

This year, the Mumbai police Anti-Narcotics Cell has already seized 765 gm of cocaine, worth an estimated Rs. 45.75 lakh - up from 980 gm in all of 2011.

As for the users, while only a handful of Mumbai's rich and famous - such as actor Fardeen Khan and Provogue MD Salil Chaturvedi - have faced charges for possession of cocaine, a raid at a sundown party in Juhu last May, where cocaine, MDMA tablets and charas were seized, uncovered Bollywood celebrities and cricketers among the 46 revellers arrested.

"The arrests only tell part of the story. There are an estimated 2 lakh cocaine users in Mumbai, most of them affluent people and frequent users," says Dr Yusuf Merchant, psychiatrist and president of the UN-affiliated Drug Abuse Information Rehabilitation and Research Centre. "Cocaine has become the way for people to announce 'We've arrived'."

The delivery mechanism has seen a similar shift.

"You once had to meet your supplier surreptitiously, in deserted back alleys," says Merchant. "Today, if you know the right people, you can place a call and have your cocaine delivered to your doorstep by a sharply dressed courier driving a Mercedes."


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