Drugs smugglers zero in on Gujarat coast: India fighting a losing battle against drugs

The heroin haul at the private Mundra port, estimated at Rs 21,000 crore, by all accounts is just tip of the iceberg

Mundra Port
Mundra Port

AJ Prabal

The routine inspection that led to the detection of three tonnes of heroin valued at Rs 21,000 Crore, being smuggled into India through the Mundra port in Gujarat, has rung alarm bells in the security establishment. Drugs now, will it be explosives or weapons next? This and other questions are being debated by experts.

The Adani Group, which runs the port, in a statement clarified that while it was responsible for the port’s management and services, it had no policing powers to detect contraband. While experts agree that contraband can be smuggled through state-owned ports also, a few of them have wondered aloud if privatisation of ports was a wise idea.

While the consignments at ports are unloaded by stevedores, who do not check the consignment, the Customs and the clearing agents appointed by the importers would be responsible generally for reporting contraband. A tighter control over the ports by security agencies is needed, especially in view of the bizarre details which have come to the surface about the latest seizure following a routine inspection by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence.

The consignment of ‘talc stones’, used to make baby powder, or semi-processed talcum powder was booked by a firm in Kandahar (Afghanistan) and loaded at Bandar Abbas port in Iran. While the importer was a firm at Vijaywada (Andhra Pradesh), the consignment was headed to Delhi. The importing firm used a residential house in Vijaywada as its office address but the owners, a couple identified as Machavaram Sudhakar and his wife Govindaraju Durga Purna Vaishali, who have been living in Chennai for the past several years. They were arrested from Chennai and are being interrogated along with some Afghan and Iranian nationals picked up from Delhi and Noida.

Even more curiously, the firm is said to have come up during the lockdown last year and registered itself for GST in August; but reports said the firm, Aashi Trading, was not registered with the ministry of company affairs, possibly because it was a proprietary firm. Suspicion that the trading company was a shell company is strengthened by the non-descript nature of the house in a quiet corner of Vijaywada. The house has remained shut for months and barring the name and GST registration number of the firm, typed on an A4 size paper and pasted on the wall of the house, neighbours reported no other sign or activity to suggest trading of any kind.

Deccan Chronicle reported that the firm had received yet another consignment in June from the same exporter. It also claimed to have documents to prove that a lorry owned by Jaydeep Logistics based in Rajasthan was shown to have transported the official consignment of talc stones to one Kuldeep Singh in Delhi. However, the report claimed that the lorry did not pass through a single tollgate on its alleged 1,176 km long journey from the Mundra port to Delhi.

The newspaper claimed that the June consignment was actually 24 tonnes of heroin valued at Rs 70,000 Crore. The consignment could still be in Gujarat, the report speculated, or has been smuggled to other states (because there is no record of the lorry with the designated number having actually travelled the distance).

I n follow-up operations following the haul at Mundra, 16.1 kgs of heroin was recovered from a Godown in Delhi, 10.2 kgs powder suspected to be cocaine and 11 kgs of substance suspected to be heroin from a residential place in Noida.

Drugs smugglers zero in on Gujarat coast: India fighting a losing battle against drugs

Four Afghan nationals, one Uzbek national and three Indians were arrested in the case so far. The three Indians are believed to be Vaishali, her husband Sudhakar and a middleman called Amit. Vaishali is apparently the holder of the Import Export Code (IEC), which was used to import the consignment.

Newspaper reports provide a grim picture of the drug scene in select states. A casual glance through newspapers show claims that heroin worth Rs 1,300 Crore was destroyed in Punjab this year. In May, 2021, heroin worth Rs 250 crore were seized. In July again Delhi Police seized heroin worth Rs 2,500 Crore while in Maharashtra in the same month it was reported that heroin worth Rs 879 Crore were seized. In August again heroin worth Rs 100 Crore were said to have been seized in Punjab.

These reported cases account for heroin worth around Rs 5,000 Crore. How much remained undetected is anybody’s guess. India has been known to be a conduit for heroin traffic and it would seem that the Government is fighting a losing battle against drugs.

Congress spokesman Pawan Khera alleged that Gujarat had become a favourite destination of drug smugglers. He listed the following instances:

July 2017: An Indian Coast Guard vessel seized approximately 1,500 kgs of Heroin valued at about Rs. 3,500 crores from a merchant vessel off the coast of Gujarat.

January 2020: Five Pakistani nationals on a fishing boat were apprehended off the coast of Gujarat while attempting to smuggle drugs worth Rs. 175 crores into the state.

April 2021: Eight Pakistani nationals onboard a boat were apprehended with heroin worth Rs. 150 crores, again off the coast of Gujarat.

September 17, 2021: Three tonnes of Heroin was seized by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) at the Mundra Port – a privately owned port by the Adani Group in Bhuj of Gujarat. The value of the Heroin is estimated to be around Rs. 21,000 Crores.

September 18, 2021: The Indian Coast Guard and the Anti-Terrorist Squad of the Gujarat Police in a joint operation on an Iranian Boat found 30 kg Heroin worth more than Rs. 150 crores off the coast of Gujarat.

Taking a dig at the Home Minister Amit Shah and Prime Minister Modi, Khera wondered why their home state had become the preferred route of smugglers. Pointing at the consistent pattern of contraband landing off the Gujarat coast, he wondered at the preventive and corrective steps taken to stop the smuggling.

“Is it a case of letting 10 consignments off and catching one to show that the agencies are active”, he asked.

He also took a dig at the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) which seemingly gets over-active at the mention of 2 grams of heroin in Bollywood on WhatsApp but cannot stop the steady flow of tonnes of contraband landing at ports in Gujarat.

Pointing out that the NCB has not had a full time Director General for the past 18 months, Khera asked why the NCB is being ‘misused for retail politics’ and perception management when international drug syndicates have been active in the country.

Among all the ports along the Indian coastline, why are ports in Gujarat the favourite route for these drug smugglers, he asked.

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