The Prohibition & Excise department of Telangana regulates alcohol and puts tabs on contraband liquour. It was surprising that its enforcement wing was leading raids on the drug trafficking scandal in the state. Behind the crackdown is IPS officer Akun Sabharwal. The drugs-buster of Hyderabad had to acquaint himself with the dark web to deal with new-age narcos. Excerpts of an interview with Ushinor Majumdar:
Is this an organised drug racket?
Not entirely. The racket behind LSD is more flattened out and is unlike the conventional, pyramid structure associated with rackets of other drugs such as cocaine and heroin. We are digging through the cocaine network, though we have busted some of the lower and middle levels.
Is sourcing through the dark web an alarming trend for agencies? How to combat it?
There is cause for concern. There are only three known cases worldwide where marketplaces have been busted—Silk Road, Silk Road2, Hansa and Alphabay. There is no real success story where new-age cyber dealers have been really busted. It is a huge challenge and agencies across the world will have to work hard to crack down on drugs sourced from the dark web.
What tipped you off?
We didn’t think we would hit it so big with LSD. Once it tumbled out, we found that the same people were pushing both LSD and cocaine. The tier three and four pushers were peddling multiple drugs for profit. Once we laid our hands on them, we went up the ladder as far as LSD is concerned. For cocaine, more work is still required.
There seems to be some immunity from prosecution for users among schoolchildren and Tollywood celebrities.
In most of the children’s cases, as per NDPS, proving their guilt will not be easy. So, where we have evidence and where they are adults, we are going ahead with prosecution. Besides, we don’t have names of the children, only names of institutions and we have alerted them. Regarding movie-stars, no names will be hidden and we are sending out notices. We have arrested techies too, who were sourcing or using drugs—that constituted the bulk of our arrests.
Is there a thriving party circuit in Hyderabad that regularly uses drugs?
It’s there in almost every city; Hyderabad is no different. In some cases, we had information of pubs where drugs were allegedly being used. We’ve listed 12 such pubs and bars and taken action against them.
Is there a way out?
Its economics; if there is a demand, there will be a supply. The only way is to reduce the demand. The agencies have to crush demand and put fear amongst suppliers.
Why not crack down on users?
As we have seen, a big player can be caught with small quantities of drugs and get away or get a light sentence. But, our crackdown has sent a clear message. In a 400-year-old city, people should not be bothered about short-term optics and image. On the demand side, I think we have addressed issues such as peer pressure among youngsters and ignorance amongst users and potential users. We will make it difficult for those who commit bloodless murder by supplying to users.
How were the children getting so much money to score drugs?
Many people know their children are doing it but didn’t have them under control. In one case, a businessman father gave Rs 50,000 each time to his child just to avoid unpleasantness. Some children were misusing credit/debit cards given to them for filling fuel for vehicles—they could get cash in exchange for a tip at petrol pumps. Right now, we are calling and counselling them. Repeat offenders and pushers will not be so lucky.