No COVID impact as drug seizures, arrests surge in 2020

Even as the Coronavirus pandemic spelt doom this year affecting day-to-day life and is slowing down the global economy, the trafficking of drugs seems to be unaffected as The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) reported a rise in drug cases in 2020 as compared to last few years.

The drug peddlers seem to have taken advantage of the pandemic as the drug trafficking remained unabated. The agency initiated a total 44 cases in which 89 persons were arrested including foreigners till this year. Last year, the agency had initiated 33 cases in which 47 persons were arrested. In 2018, 21 cases were reported in which 45 persons were arrested. In 2017, the agency detected 25 cases in which 29 persons were arrested. The agency sources stated that the increase has been reported even as the country was in lockdown for a long period and that the agency was working with minimum staff.

To make things worse, twenty-six staffers of the Mumbai zonal unit tested positive during September-October for the Sars-Cov-2 virus, which causes COVID-19.

“The cases this year include seizures of Cocaine, Hashish, Mephedrone, Marijuana and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). The NCB has seized a huge number of raw materials used to manufacture drugs and has initiated crackdown on international syndicates,” said Sameer Wankhede, zonal director, Mumbai and Goa who took over the charge since September this year and since then has initiated 28 drug cases.

The highest number of accused arrested was in case number 16 linked to the death of the Bollywood actor Sushant Singh Rajput. The agency has made a total 26 arrests till now. The case hogged the media limelight as the agency cracked down on drug peddlers and questioned several Bollywood actors.

NCB sources stated that foreign syndicates continue to be operating in the city with help of local peddlers. Most of the drug is being smuggled into the city through couriers and people are hired who have been lured for easy money. The agency has also been keeping a close watch on the African syndicates pumping illegal contraband in the country.

With the New Year nearing, the NCB has beefed up its surveillance in the city and Goa while anticipating an increase in demand during this time to cater parties. The NCB sources said peddlers may try to take advantage of the season and hence they are keeping a close watch. While the prevailing COVID-19 situation is likely to be a dampener for outdoor parties, NCB sources stated that they are not taking any chances as drug peddling witnessed heightened activity even during the pandemic in Mumbai.

The syndicates have been active on a massive scale during the pandemic which can be derived from the large number of seizures of cocaine by another anti-narcotic agency — Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI). The drug cartels may even take advantage of job losses during pandemic and recruit mules who are likely to fall prey to make a quick buck.

Sources said that the surge in demand will automatically attract trafficking and hence efforts are on to detect such cases. Due to the holiday season in the month of December with new-year parties across the country, this time is feared as the start of the drug-peddling season. The agencies are also keeping a close watch on social media usage for inputs.

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