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Monday, Sep 23, 2019

How two chemistry grads ran a drug start-up, made pots of money and went to jail

Mumbai city news: The two organic chemistry majors used their knowledge of chemicals to set up factories that made Mephedrone.

mumbai Updated: Jul 08, 2017 10:40 IST
Debasish Panigrahi
Debasish Panigrahi
Hindustan Times
(Picture for representation)

Rajkumar Naidu, 36, from Karnataka, and Harischandra Nanasaheb Dorge, 51, from Pune, are not your average start-up owners.

The two organic chemistry majors used their knowledge of chemicals to set up factories that made Mephedrone, or MD — a dangerous synthetic drug that has become hugely popular in Mumbai by its street name meow-meow.

And, they did it stealthily. The drug was produced in one factory at Karnataka’s Hangal that used machines made from scraps bought at Matunga, another factory ran in Pune, and the drugs were sold across the Mumbai — until raids earlier this year busted the racket.

The raids and arrests have the police worried — the case showed MD production was fast becoming a cottage industry run by such renegade entrepreneurs.

Why this is a concern

When the Anti Narcotics Cell (ANC) busted the racket, they were not relieved.

“We believe this recovery is just the tip of the iceberg,” said deputy commissioner of police (DCP), ANC, Shivdeep Lande.

The real problem, Lande said, was how easily the two men were able to manufacture the drug without being caught. “The drug is banned by law, but the chemicals needed to make MD are easily available.”

Lande said, “This means so many more such units could be operating under people who have just a basic knowledge of chemicals.”

How did this operation work?

Naidu used to work in chemical factories. He came in contact with Bandra resident Praveen Wagela at an agro-chemical exhibition in Mumbai in November last year.

“Wagela was already running a syndicate that supplied MD in India and abroad,” Lande said. Wagela gave Naidu the idea of making the drug.

The money was good and Naidu agreed.

Lande said Naidu set up a small unit in Hangal, which he called a soap factory. “Naidu did this as the chemicals (methylene, propane, acetic acid and bromine) used to make Mephedrone emit an odour similar to detergent,” Lande said.

In Mumbai, meanwhile, Wagela assembled a reactor for the drug from scraps he bought from a Matunga dealer. “He assembled four such reactors, costing Rs1.8 lakh each,” Lande said.

He gave two reactors to Naidu, who after a few failed attempts, managed to get the perfect ratio of chemicals to make MD.

“Naidu soon mastered the correct concoction, started producing the contraband in bulk and there was no looking back,” Lande said. Naidu made more than three quintals of the drug in the two months before his arrest in January.

How they cracked it

The tip off about Naidu’s business came when Wagela was arrested in January. He was intercepted at Chembur while waiting to deliver 10kg of MD that was to be shipped abroad.

The probe led the ANC to Dorge’s MD manufacturing unit in Kurkumbh, near Pune. Sujalam Chemicals was a sprawling 20,000 sqft factory where MD was made in bulk. The ANC found 100kg of the drug there.

While one case has been cracked, what really worries drug enforcement agencies is how such units have been making the drug without begin caught.

Despite a ban on Mephedrone since January 2015 and increased surveillance, an increasing amount of the drug is being recovered — in 2016, 269 kg was recovered by the ANC, in the first five months of this year, 208kg has already been recovered. And these are just recoveries by the ANC. The customs department and the Narcotic Control Bureau (NCB) have their individual hauls.

Cheap and popular

What also makes MD so abundant is the money, a senior ANC official said.

“It promises windfall gain at every layer—from production, supply and distribution.”

It costs Rs30,000 to get the raw material and labour to make 1kg of MD. This is sold to the supplier at Rs3.5 lakh. The supplier sells it to his distributors at Rs6.5 lakh. They go on to sell it to street peddlers at Rs15 lakh a kg.

“In cities like Delhi, the street price of the drug goes up to Rs40 lakh a kg — it’s profit all the way,” the officer said.

First Published: Jun 22, 2017 10:24 IST