In one of the biggest narcotic hauls in recent times, Delhi Police has seized 4,400 kg of mandrax worth Rs 2 billion ($42 million) from a south Delhi area, destined most probably for South Africa.
The seizure of mandrax, just eight days after 100 kg of banned narcotic ephedrine and three kg of hashish were caught on August 20, took place late on Sunday from a godown in the Badarpur area in south Delhi.
A person called Vinod Sharma has been arrested in this connection from nearby Kalkaji.
"It looks like a sequel to the August 20 seizure. The involvement of an international cartel cannot be ruled out. The drug - Methaqualone - popularly known as mandrax is in high demand among partygoers and some sportspersons," said Anil Shukla, deputy commissioner of police (south).
"The worth of the drugs seized is Rs 200 crores in the international market," Shukla said.
Mandrax, which is manufactured in India only for pharmaceutical purposes, is a drug used to get relief from tension, mental stress and anxiety. It also gives the user a high for a longer time and has a lot of demand in South Africa.
"We expect that the substance was kept here for being processed into pills before being exported to foreign countries. We have arrested one person and further investigations are on to know the source and final destination of the contraband," the DCP added.
Some "banned pharmaceutical companies" were trying to get hold of the substance and turn it into "user-friendly pills", he said.
Rajiv Walia, deputy director general of Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), said that with their growing economic stature, major Indian metropolises are becoming a transit route for the foreign drug cartel.
"The last two drug seizures are clear examples of international cartels operation here," Walia said.
Walia said mandrax was in high demand in South Africa and a favourite among youngsters there.
According to the South Africa Police Service website, the methaqualone seized in their country generally comes from the Middle East, South and Central Asia among others. The product is sold in South Africa as tablet formulations, usually in combination with the antihistamine diphenhydramine and sometimes with diazepam.
On August 20, police had seized 100 kg of ephedrine and three kg of hashish concealed in a consignment of paintings headed for Canada. They were worth Rs 1 billion in the international market. A 29-year-old Canada-based NRI and three other gang members were arrested.
After interrogating them, police learnt that the cartel was spread across the states of Punjab, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. The seizure triggered a series of raids in several places in these states.