It is an open secret. Acknowledged for their enterprising skills the world over, some Punjabi NRIs, mainly in Canada and the UK, are spreading the illicit multi-crore drug racket in the international market through hawala transactions, also harming the socio-economic fabric of their own motherland.
Hawala money, once used to fund terrorism in Punjab in the 1980s and the early 1990s, is now meant for such transactions, leaving negligible evidence of its movement to track down, wherein only the end couriers are generally arrested.
Though enforcement agencies have succeeded in nailing a few NRIs and starting extradition proceedings against 11 such Punjabi NRIs based in Canada and the UK, there are a number of druglords whose undercover deals are yet to be traced.
State police records show Jalandhar, Amritsar, Ludhiana and Phagwara as major hubs of hawala operators not only for narcotic consignment payments but also for pumping in NRIs’ money for use in the elections and other unaccounted deals.
Investigating agencies are still groping in the dark to trace the system adopted by Indian smugglers and NRI druglords for the transportation of narcotics and precursor chemicals out from India through the sea route. A senior Punjab police officer involved in the probe says, “It is very difficult to check huge containers going through Indian ports unless we have some prior information.” Whether there is involvement of customs officials needs to be probed as there have been instances that heroin and precursor chemicals such as ephedrine and pseudoephedrine (cheap in India) used for making ICE (methamphetamine) have been transported in the consignment of furniture through ships, he adds.
Smugglers have outwitted enforcement agencies’ belief that there is little scope of moving narcotics abroad through the air route due to strict X-ray and sniffer dogs’ checks.
Superintendent of police (detective), Jalandhar rural, HPS Khakh agrees that kabaddi tournaments, mainly organised by NRIs in the state, have become a big source of such murky drug transactions where even heroin is smuggled by expert inter-air locking packaging of photo frames of tournament pictures through the air route. Other means adopted by smugglers include putting heroin inside chakla belan (chapati rolling board, pin), wedge heels of women’s sandals and within mattresses.
Big fish caught
Enforcement agencies list their big achievement in nabbing druglord and former Punjab police deputy superintendent of police (DSP) Jagdish Bhola, Raja Kandola, Anoop Singh Kahlon (Canada-based Punjabi NRI), Devinder Singh Dev (Rajasthan-based Canadian national) and Ravi Goa (Goa-based smuggler through the sea route), but it is just a drop in the ocean.
Smugglers caught with commercial quantity can even be sentenced for life by courts. As per law, commercial quantity contains over 50 gm of cocaine, ICE or methamphetamine (50 gm), heroin (250 gm), smack or brown sugar (250 gm), opium (2.5 kg) and poppy husk (50 kg).
Heroin finds its way into Punjab from Afghanistan via Pakistan where a 1-kg packet costs around Rs 4 lakh.
By the time it reaches the international market via the Punjab transit route, it costs more than Rs 2 crore. The first courier on the Indian side at the international border who uses Pakistani mobile SIM fetches around Rs 40,000 for the collection of a packet hurled over the border fencing or passed through PVC pipes between the border fencing. The packet reaches another courier, also fetching around Rs 40,000, and when it reaches Delhi its cost escalates to around Rs 10 lakh (around Rs 20 lakh in Mumbai).
“Je politician te policewale apne bacheyan di saun kha lein tan ik parinda vi par ni mar sakda (If politicians and cops swear by their children, then no person can dare to be involved in the drug trade),” says Sukhdev Singh Kokri, general secretary of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan) of Kokri Kalan village in Moga.
Additional director general of police (crime) VK Bhawra agrees that there are a few black sheep in every organisation, but with limited resources, the police have to perform other duties of law and order also.
(The article is the result of ground reportage from Punjab by HT senior staffer Sanjeev Verma for his project under the Inclusive Media-UNDP Fellowship-2014)