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On Bihar-Bangladesh border, illicit liquor masquerades as cough syrup

After Bihar banned the sale and consumption of liquor in April 2016, Codeine-based cough syrups are being consumed as substitute for alcohol in parts of the state and smuggled to neighbouring Bangladesh.

india Updated: May 12, 2017 10:15 IST
Anirban Guha Roy
Anirban Guha Roy
Hindustan Times, Kishanganj
Cough syrups,Alcohol substitute,Rampant smuggling
Huge stocks of codeine-based cough syrups are being smuggled to Bangladesh via ‘dry’ Bihar. (Shutterstock representative pic)

The total ban on liquor in Bihar since April 2016 and a tough message from chief minister Nitish Kumar on Wednesday that there could be no let up in its implementation, has put the police under renewed pressure to completely block liquor smuggling.

But in Kishanganj district of eastern Bihar, around 400 km from state capital, Patna and close to the Indo- Bangladesh border, security personnel are focussing all their vigilance on consignments of another commodity - small bottles of cough syrup, mainly Phensedyl.

This is because of rampant smuggling via Bihar of expectorants such as these to neighbouring Bangladesh, where, like in many parts of Bihar and the country at large, they are consumed to get a liquor like kick out of its ‘intoxicating’ ingredient.

“Here, we keep closer tabs on cough syrup consignments as Kishanganj is a prominent route for the smugglers to push it into Bangladesh via the Indo-Bangla border, where it is sold at a high rate,” said a senior BSF officer, posted at force’s sector headquarters at Kishanganj.

He said a 100 mg bottle of Phensedyl fetched a price ranging from Rs 300 to Rs 700, in various parts of Bangladesh. In India, the cough syrup reportedly sells at less than Rs 100 for a small bottle.

Codeine-based cough syrups, including Phensedyl and Corex, are among the 344 fixed-dose combinations (FDCs) banned by India in February last year. But they continue to be sold in the black market, say medicine shop owners. Several companies have gone to court for overturning the ban.

“ Most of the consignment come from Himachal Pradesh, a pharma manufacturing base,” said another BSF officer, highlighting how huge consignments of the cough syrup loaded in trucks got seized from time to time, based on tip off from intelligence sources.

Reports have it the issue of cough syrup smuggling has been high on the agenda for talks between India and Bangladesh, especially after India banned codeine-based cough syrups.

BSF personnel also confided how locals residing along the Indo- Bangla border, in Bihar and West Bengal, were hired by the drug smugglers to transport the cough syrup laden gunny bags across the border.

“The smuggling is done as part of well-oiled network . Locals sit along the fence of the border and just throw the gunny bags with cough syrup across the barbed wires, mainly during night hours. Patrolling is intensive but the illicit trade remains a challenge,” said another BSF officer.

“In Kishanganj, illegal cough syrup trade is more rampant than smuggling of liquor,” he said, pointing out how cough syrup was consumed as an intoxicant in parts of Araria and Kishanganj, Muslim-dominated districts of the state.

Reports suggest despite the ban, medicines shops in Araria still have roaring sale of cough syrups, mainly because the expectorant is consumed more as an alternative to alcohol.

However, some officials claimed the crackdown on drug smugglers in the past few years had brought a sharp reduction in instances of ferrying of the cough syrup bottles to other side of the fence.

First Published: May 12, 2017 10:15 IST