Village on border gaining notoriety as drug trade hub
Once notorious for smuggling gold from Pakistan, the border village of Havelian in Punjab’s Tarn Taran district has become a hub for drug trafficking in past two decades.
Located at a stone’s throw from the border’s barbed wire fence and 40 km from the district headquarters, this village has been in the news since the Customs at the Attari check-post found 532 kg of heroin and 52 kg of mixed narcotics concealed in a consignment of rock salt from Pakistan on June 29. Ranjit Singh, alias Rana, was identified as the kingpin. He is absconding.
Havelian sarpanch Sarmukh Singh says Rana and his family left the village seven years ago and settled in Amritsar’s Ramtirath Road area. The family still owns 1.5 acres of farmland that lies abandoned across the barbed fence.
“Rana is not alone. About 20% residents of this village have moved to Amritsar and other cities of Punjab after gaining wealth from the drug trade,” says Partap Singh, 72, a senior panchayat member.
Incidentally, sarpanch Sarmukh Singh once had three cases under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act against him, while his son Prabhdev Singh was booked in five cases. The sarpanch, who belongs to the Congress, says, “I’ve been acquitted in all three cases. My son and I were booked at the behest of the Shiromani Akali Dal. It was vendetta.”
STUCK WITH STIGMA
In six years, 105 NDPS cases have been registered against 48 residents of Havelian, the highest for any village in Punjab. More than 100 villagers have been booked under the NDPS act in a decade, according to the police.
The village has 150 families and a population of about 1,000. Two-thirds of them are from the Jat-Sikh community, while the rest belong to the Scheduled Castes and backward classes. The Jat-Sikh community depends on farming for income with 1,500 acres of agriculture land in the village. Of this, 150 acres is across the barbed fence from where Pakistan is 200 metres away. The SC and BC community members are engaged as farm labourers.
Barring a handful of families, the rest are either involved in drug smuggling or have a drug addict. Many have given up hope that their village will ever get rid of the stigma. They blame successive governments for not heeding their demands for better educational infrastructure and job opportunities.
ROUTE TO RUIN
“After Partition, Pakistani smugglers in connivance with residents of Havelian and its adjoining village of Naushehra Dhala used to smuggle opium. Four decades ago, this became a route for smuggling gold before the village became a haven for narcotics smuggling,” says senior panchayat member Partap Singh.
“There may be only six homes in the village that are not involved in the drug trade. We are living with this stigma,” he says.
“Most farmers are small land-owners and people belonging to the SC/BC category work as labourers. After the wheat and paddy cycle, labourers find it difficult to earn a livelihood. There is no job opportunity here. They smuggle drugs for a living,” says Pargat Singh, a farmer.
NO JOBS TO BLAME
“Smugglers are in touch with Pakistani accomplices over phone, using Pakistani SIM cards and WhatsApp. They decide on a landmark where the consignment will be thrown,” says village numberdar Mukhtiar Singh.
He blames lack of jobs for the drug abuse in the village. “The only government agency that regularly comes to us is the police. They come to harass us,” he says.
“There is no college in our area. Our children have to go to Bir Sahib, 20 km from here, for higher education. There is no bus service, so many drop out.”
“If villagers had access to education and jobs, why would they get involved in smuggling?” asks former sarpanch and ex-serviceman Kuldeep Singh.
Kuldeep Singh Chahal, senior superintendent of police, Tarn Taran, says, “The village is infamous for drug smuggling. We have been keeping a vigil on residents and have attached the properties of smugglers.”