Braving sub-zero temperatures and dense fog these days to highs of up to 45 degrees Celsius in summer, India's Border Security Force (BSF) seized 361 kg of heroin in 2014 - its highest in a single year on the border with Pakistan in Punjab.
The seizure, according to BSF officials, is worth over Rs.1,808 crore ($286 million) in the international market.
The seizures (till Dec 30) this year are higher than the previous record of 322 kg recovered in 2013 along the barbed wire fenced 553-km border between India and Pakistan in Punjab.
In 2012, the BSF recovered 288 kg heroin in the Punjab sector, comprising the frontier districts of Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Ferozepur and Fazilka.
"The BSF does not want even a single gram of drugs to enter through the border. The high seizure of heroin along the international border is because our men are extra vigilant," BSF's Jalandhar-based Punjab-frontier Inspector General Anil Paliwal told IANS.
The BSF, despite guarding the international border in harsh weather conditions, has been targeted by Punjab's ruling Shiromani Akali Dal over the drugs issue.
To ward off attention from the Punjab government's own failure to curb rampant drugs abuse in the state, Akali Dal leaders, led by its president Sukhbir Badal, the deputy chief minister and the home minister, have been holding protests near border checkpoints.
The protests earlier targeted the BSF, blaming it for not checking smuggling of drugs into Punjab from the Afghanistan-Pakistan route. These were toned down to raise awareness on drugs.
While Paliwal refused to comment on the politics behind the protests, a senior BSF officer, requesting anonymity, told IANS: "Instead of protesting against the BSF, let Sukhbir Badal, his ministers and Akali Dal leaders spend a few nights with BSF troopers who guard the border 24x7 in sub-zero temperatures and dense fog with zero visibility. Let them experience the bone-chilling duty that our troopers do."
BSF field commanders say bigger seizures also show that heroin smugglers in Pakistan and India have become more active in the last few years.
The seizure of heroin by the BSF in 2011 was just 68 kg. It was 115 kg in 2010, 120 kg in 2009 and 100 kg in 2008. The drug network operates along the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India route.
While the BSF mans the international border in the districts of Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Ferozepur and Fazilka, the highest seizure of heroin this year, 187 kg out of 361 kg, was in the Amritsar sector alone.
BSF officials at the border have to deal with the border population as the agricultural fields of many of them are across the barbed wire fence. The fence itself is erected 300-800 metres inside Indian territory.
The seizure of poppy husk and fake Indian currency notes (FICN) from the Pakistan side has, however, fallen this year.
Compared to over 246 kg poppy husk and over Rs.52 lakh worth of FICN, the seizures of these this year has been only 33 kg and Rs.11.83 lakh this year. In 2012, just 5.5 kg poppy husk was recovered.
BSF troopers killed four Pakistani and three Indian smugglers in exchange of fire near the border this year. Sixteen Indian smugglers were arrested.
The troopers, including women, say they have to deal with extreme weather and inhospitable terrain. The border in Punjab is manned by nearly 135 BSF battalions.
"Though we use technology, the troopers have to rely on their personal instincts to monitor any movement along the border. It is a tough job," an operational commander of the BSF told IANS in the Amritsar sector.
Smugglers from Pakistan use plastic pipes to push heroin packets across the electrified fence, bury them in fields or throw the wrapped packets into Indian territory.
Their Indian counterparts later pick these up. The connivance of Pakistan border guards, Pakistan Rangers, with the smugglers is not ruled out.