Updated on: Monday, July 26, 2021, 07:58 AM IST

ROVING-I: Dial ‘D’ for Drugs


Cinema is a reflection of its own society – is what the Iranian born American actor Shohreh Aghdashloo once quoted. It could well be profound when one looks at the celluloid which depicted Janice in her hippie attire smoking cannabis or hashish, crooned to the rather legendary tune of ‘Dum Maro Dum’ as early 1971.

The song reflected the hippie culture then existent in independent India, but it also brought to fore the prevalence of narcotics in the society. But at that point, it would not have struck law makers as cannabis was used in edible preparations since ancient times in India. Not surprising that ‘bhang’ finds a mention in Portuguese-Jewish physician Garcia de Orta’s work Colóquios dos simples e drogas he cousas medicinais da Índia as early as 1563.

A seven-member commission in its report titled ‘The Indian Hemps Drugs Commission Report’ in 1894 had concluded that ‘occasional use of hemp in moderate doses may be beneficial; but this use may be regarded as medicinal in character’. The Hemps commission could have been right considering marijuana has been legalised for medicinal purposes in many developed countries, but who was to define ‘moderate doses’.

The Hemps Commission report could also have been the reason why lawmakers in India did not find it necessary to enact an Act to curb narcotics, till President Giani Zail Singh gave his assent for the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act to be invoked in 1985. The NDPS Act kicked in new era.

It saw the formation of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) in 1986, and in Mumbai the Anti-Narcotics Cell (ANC) in 1989. But was it too little too late? The question is a tough proposition to answer when one goes through the history of Mumbai, and its infamous underworld and its operations. By the time the act had come into place, and later the agencies, the underworld had flourished in the business of narcotics and were making a killing out of it.

Controlling cannabis with the NDPS Act had potentially given a boost to the gun-running mafia which kicked in to control the trade of narcotics. What happened next was the underworld’s exposure to the Golden Crescent that overlaps Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, on the west and to the Golden Triangle in the east consisting of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. The Golden Crescent and Triangle continues to produce 90 per cent of the world’s illicit opium.

If Abdul Karim Sher Khan alias Karim Lala, a migrant from Kunar province in Afghanistan who went on to become a mafia don in Mumbai, used his contacts in Afghanistan to further the trade of narcotics would be known only to those who would have been in his close circles, his protégé in Dawood Ibrahim, who also has the Global Terrorist tag, leveraged resources across the globe is now well-documented.

By the time ANC started functioning, Dawood Ibrahim and his brand of mafiosi were well entrenched into the world of narcotics, if not narco-terrorism, having tied up largely with the likes of the dreaded Odessa, Russian or now Ukrainian Mafia, to trade in narcotics.

This expanded the scope of the underworld from dealing in opiates and cannabis, to synthetic drugs of Indian science like Methaqualone or Mandrax which were then in demand in many African countries and Europe.

The money that the mandrax king aka Iqbal Mirchi brought to the Dawood Ibrahim’s gang was unparalleled, and it saw Dawood give Mirchi a free run to expand his empire in narcotics. Dawood too commands a lion’s share in the narcotics trade when one looks at his nephew Sohail Kaskar trading Russian made Igla missiles with the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia or the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, popularly known as FARC. Does one need to wonder how Mirchi amassed properties in plush localities of Mumbai, Cape Town in South Africa, Cyprus, Australia, United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates?

But what it meant for India, and to a large extent Mumbai, was that the illicit trade of narcotics went largely unchecked. Mandrax wasn’t sold in Mumbai, and officers in the anti-narcotic agencies were rewarded handsomely where the likes of Iqbal Mirchi facilitated orgy parties flowing with foreign liquor and drugs in farmhouses at Lonavala and plush apartments in Mumbai. Old timers of the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW), the external intelligence agency of India, narrate vivid accounts of the nexus. It doesn’t come as a surprise when one goes back into the documents and finds that Mumbai’s ANC had busted a drug factory in 1994, and then it took 24 years for the ANC to bust another drug factory in 2018.

What happened to the ANC in those 24 years? Were officers sent to ANC as a punishment posting? Weren’t factories producing synthetic drugs? Wasn’t the international airport in Mumbai used as a transit point for these drugs? Were officers in the law enforcement agencies ignorant to the drug mafia, or did the drug mafia hand over its rather less lucrative businesses to be controlled by those in the law enforcement agencies with tacit understanding? Was ANC the only agency to control drugs? These questions have never been probed, but are a known fact among those in the power corridors.

How else could certain officers construct farmhouses, own bars and restaurants, possess multiple flats in posh localities in Mumbai and its neighbouring districts? And it’s not alone that those in the ANC made money. Drug money had percolated to almost all agencies.

The resultant. Today, Mumbai stares at almost all possible narcotics being traded across a cross-section of its society. Marijuana and Hashish which was restricted to the hippies in the 70’s, is being sold on the streets. Drivers of private aggregator applets and autorickshaw drivers have become suppliers. African nationals walk into Mumbai on business or education VISA’s to trade in cocaine, and they attack officers who try to arraign them. ANC reaches out to schools and colleges, to create awareness on the ill-effects of not only marijuana or hashish, but also of cocaine, heroin, ecstasy, LSD, mephedrone and others narcotic substances.

But is it sufficient? Late Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death once again brought to focus the use of narcotic substances. The NCB which has been on a rampage since mid-last year, has seemingly arrested a plenty who dealt in narcotics or consumed. And so has ANC. But none of these agencies have reached the root. Manufacturers of these narcotic products remain largely at loose and continue to funnel drugs into Mumbai through various medium.

Not surprising that a confidential report to the Centre recently stated that nearly Rs 100 crore worth hashish was being supplied from Jammu & Kashmir alone. The report did make its impact as supply of hashish from Jammu & Kashmir was restricted, but its paved way for hashish from Himachal Pradesh to find its way into Mumbai. Peddlers who deal in quantities above 10 grams are being arraigned, but what happens to the manufacturers who deal in bulk.

A narcotic like cocaine, which isn’t produced in India, continues to find way into Mumbai. So much so that the drug, which was associated to the elite in Bollywood, is not available on the streets. Agencies, surprisingly, haven’t found a simple mechanism to verify the credentials of African nationals who enter the city and supposedly tear their passports to ensure they can masquerade behind fake identities.

The Bureau of Immigration, at the airports, still hasn’t created a fool-proof mechanism to share details of foreign nationals who enter Mumbai which would have ensured that those who indulge in crime related to narcotics can be deported almost instantaneously, which has seen these foreign nationals create and live in ghettos, in and around Mumbai.

For an average Mumbai policeman, cracking down on drugs has become sheer waste of time considering the huge amount of paper work that needs to be done to ensure a culprit is prosecuted. It might have just not created a character akin to Pablo Emilio Escobar Gaviria as yet but the miniature characters of Mumbai’s drug mafiosi could well give Bollywood its dope in making a series akin to the Netflix docudrama NARCOS. After all, Bollywood has the experience of producing Naam (1986), Jaanbaaz (1986), Jalwa (1987), Gumraah (1993), Paanch (2003), Charas (2004), Dum Maaro Dum (2011), and Udta Punjab (2016).

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Published on: Monday, July 26, 2021, 12:41 AM IST