Drug trafficking through maritime routes, postal services on rise: NCB

Updated on Sep 28, 2022 04:59 AM IST

Drug trafficking through sea routes in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, estimated to account for around 70% of the total illegal drugs smuggled into India, poses a major challenge for law enforcement agencies, according to the latest annual report of NCB.

NCB Mumbai busted an interstate drug trafficking gang and seized 190kg of ganja from two cars in July. (ANI)
NCB Mumbai busted an interstate drug trafficking gang and seized 190kg of ganja from two cars in July. (ANI)
ByNeeraj Chauhan, New Delhi

Drug trafficking through sea routes in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, estimated to account for around 70% of the total illegal drugs smuggled into India, poses a major challenge for law enforcement agencies, according to the latest annual report of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB). The use of maritime routes by international drug syndicates based in Pakistan and Afghanistan is only expected to increase, it said.

“Interception of maritime drug trafficking, especially in the western region of India, has witnessed an increase. Most of such seizures are sourced from the ports of Afghanistan and Iran, which are destined to coastal states in India or are in further transit to countries like Sri Lanka, Maldives, etc,” the annual report said.

Heroin is the most trafficked drug through the sea route, but ATS (amphetamine type stimulants), marijuana, cocaine, etc., are also among the drugs seized, the report added.

Among the big drug hauls by Indian agencies is the largest ever, of 2,988 kg of Afghan heroin worth 21,000 crore (on the street) by the Directorate of Revenue and Intelligence (DRI) at Mundra port in September 2021; 303 kg of cocaine in April 2021 by the DRI at Tuticorin port; and 300 kg and 337 kg heroin from two Sri Lankan boats by NCB, in March and April 2021.

Apart from the sea route, the use of couriers, parcels and postal services to smuggle drugs has gone up significantly in past two years – 300% in 2020 and 200% last year compared to 2019, the NCB report said. The increased use of couriers or postal services is also directly linked to increased dark web activity in India, the report added.

The quantum of drugs in parcels is usually in few grams to avoid suspicion and interception by law enforcement agencies.

“The restrictions imposed on vehicular/ship/airline movement during Covid-19 pandemic have made drug traffickers rely more upon courier/parcel/post. This has emerged as more challenging for the law enforcement agencies,” the report said.

There were only 67 instances of f parcels with drugs being intercepted across India in 2019. This rose to 260 in 2020 but came down to 146 last year. NCB’s Kolkata unit investigated a case in July 2021 in which 20 kg of marijuana was sent to consumers in 54 parcels, with the payment made in bitcoins.

Among the drugs being smuggled into the country in quantity are cocaine, which saw its highest ever total seizure last year (338 kg); heroin, which is continuously being pushed into India from across the Pakistan border; and marijuana, which is smuggled from Nepal and illegally grown within India.

Heroin hauls, according to the NCB report, have almost doubled from 3,838 kg in 2020 to 7,619 kg last year. “Major trafficking of heroin in India takes place through Indo-Pakistan border – Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir. From these border states, heroin is further trafficked into other states.” NCB said. Use of human carriers from Africa for smuggling heroin to India was also noticed in at least 52 instances in 2020 and 2021.

Agencies recovered 338 kg of cocaine last year, which is estimated to be worth close to 2,500 crore in the international market. Earlier, 19 kg of cocaine was seized in 2020, 66 kg in 2019 and 35 kg in 2018.

“Smuggling of cocaine (which originates mainly in South America) is done by African nationals in India and most seizures have been made at airports. There are many instances of small quantities of cocaine being trafficked through parcels, concealed in cosmetics, utensils, books and clothing,” the NCB report said. It mentioned a trend of trafficking of cocaine in liquid form as well.

There is also increased usage of cannabis in India last year due to decreased supply of other synthetic drugs post Covid-19 pandemic and countrywide lockdowns, the NCB report claimed.

Around 7.5 lakh kg of cannabis was seized by agencies in 2021, compared to 5.6 lakh kg in 2020. “Trafficking of ganja in substantial quantities takes place across India-Nepal border and in the states of Odisha, Himachal Pradesh and in small quantities from states of Manipur and West Bengal. The main transit routes for ganja are through Assam, Odisha, West Bengal, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Nagaland, Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh,” the report added.

The report also highlighted the emergence and presence of a large number of new psychoactive substances (NPS), which are known in the market by terms such as “legal highs”, “bath salts” and “research chemicals”. These include chemicals such as crotonylfentanyl, methooxyacetyl fentanyl, cafentanil, tramadol, ethylone, etc.

“ NPS pose a significant risk to public health and challenge to the drug policy. (It is) difficult to carry out analysis and identification of large number of chemically diverse substances present in drug markets,” NCB added.

“Challenges such as increase in maritime trafficking, use of courier services, emergence of illegal internet pharmacies, use of dark net to place orders and make payments and diversion of pharmaceutical and prescription drugs for illicit consumption are going to escalate in the coming years,” said Shreya Upadhyay, a strategic affairs expert and assistant professor at Christ University, Bengaluru.

“There is a need to form a task force, which can focus on all syndicates, big or small, involved in cross-border smuggling of all kinds of drugs, as well as the distribution networks,” Upadhyay added.

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