The Tribune – Peddlers going back to trade frustrate police efforts

Number of cases far higher than people in drug trade, police yet to compile figures

Rachna Khaira

Jalandhar – Panjab – India, 08 May 2018. The number of arrests under the NDPS Act has been consistently high for the past couple of years, average of around 35 per day, however, that may not signify much success as most of them are repeat offenders, because of which peddling has persisted despite the massive police drive.

The number of actual peddlers would thus be much lower when compared to the number of arrests since the formation of the anti-drug Special Task Force (STF) in the state.

STF chief and ADGP Harpreet Sidhu, admitting the fact, said data needed to be compiled to establish the actual number of peddlers getting arrested repeatedly. “We have thus far succeeded in blocking the supply lines to Punjab, and are now beginning analytical investigation of the cases,” he said.

Experts feel that along with nabbing peddlers, the STF should also have a separate wing to plan rehabilitation projects for those arrested under the NDPS Act so as to keep them from going back to the trade once they come out on bail.

How a lot of the police effort goes waste in carrying on a struggle with the same set of peddlers was revealed in The Tribune’s interaction with three peddlers.

Family circumstances

It was after much persuasion that 23-year-old Mohinder (name changed) agreed to meet this correspondent on the outskirts of his village in Kapurthala. He was arrested last year for carrying narcotics, and was released on bail recently.

How did he get into drugs? “Six years ago, my father, the sole earning member in the family, died in an accident. I was only 16 at the time. Despite efforts, I could not find a job to support my four sisters and grandparents. Under stress, I took my first ‘shot’,” Mohinder said. He has been arrested twice under the NDPS Act since.

He bought his first shot of morphine for Rs 600. “My neighbor had bought it for Rs 60 from Saharanpur. Seeing the profit, I too joined him in this lucrative business,” Mohinder claimed.

Initially, he bought around 2,000 injections for Rs 60 each, and sold those for Rs 500 to Rs 600 in Punjab. Later, he even called for consignments of up to Rs 2 lakh, and sold those to bigger players in the state.

Interestingly, he claimed that the police till date were not aware of the “mega deals” struck by him, and had been arresting him only for possession of small quantities of “intoxicant powder”.

Supply from UP

Thirty-four-year-old Bharat (name changed) is into peddling for the past 10 years. Despite repeated arrests, he has not given up the trade. He came out on bail recently.

During a meeting in Kartarpur, he said, “I am just a small fish. The chain is alive across the country, with the nerve centre in Uttar Pradesh. Over 80 per cent of the drugs consumed in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Chandigarh are being supplied from UP.”

Bharat said the majority of the drugs sold by them are injections and medicines such as Alprax tablets, Spasmo Proxyvon and Tramadol.

“Bhagwanpur and Kaliyar villages in Uttar Pradesh are the hub for the supply of drugs to Punjab. You can ask for any quantity from a small bag to truckloads,” Bharat said.

And how does he receive the consignments? “Peddlers like us strike the deal on the road. I do it in Bhagwanpur. Each time we are met by a different face, on a different vehicle (mostly two-wheeler). The deal is always done in cash,” Bharat said.

He even claimed that he had informed the local police of the modus operandi during interrogation, but there was no action on the input. “They are just perpetuating the narcotics supply cycle by repeatedly arresting peddlers whenever they come out on bail,” Bharat alleged.

Multiple cases

The Tribune spoke to the sister of one Sushant (real name), 22, a resident of Phillaur. He was allegedly rounded up by the Nakodar police on September 16, 2016, on the charge of stealing a scooter on September 13 from a Punjab Roadways employee (FIR No. 192) at Nakodar bus stand.

A day later, on September 17, he was booked under the NDPS Act and Sections 397, 380, 455 and 427 of the IPC, and 34 and 25 of the Arms Act (FIR No. 193).

Two days after that, on September 19, he was booked yet again under Section 22 of the NDPS Act for possession of 120 gm of “intoxicant powder”.

The sister claimed that two cops had approached him and asked if he knew how to drive an Activa scooter. When he said yes, they took him to the police station. Next, they clicked his photographs after making him stand next to a stolen scooter, and sent him to jail.

Though Sushant was acquitted in the theft case, he is still contesting the two other cases, in which he has been awarded imprisonment of 17 years.

Despite repeated calls made to the area SHO and DSP, they could not explain as to why three different cases were registered against the same person with a single arrest.

Prisons ill-equipped

The availability and abuse of drugs in prisons is going on unchecked as the department is severely strained for staff, who are unable to prevent the entry of drugs into prison premises. In Kapurthala Modern Jail, where around 500 to 600 people go out for court hearings every day, it is not practically feasible to frisk every prisoner.

The department recently procured two dogs trained in sniffing out narcotics, but their work time is limited to an hour or so. Moreover, with no vehicle available to transport the dogs, they tire out just walking to the prison gate.