Thursday, Dec 07, 2023

A Growing Drug Epidemic In The Streets Of Mumbai

A Growing Drug Epidemic In The Streets Of Mumbai

Substance abuse has become a household name in the gullies of Mumbai. A stressed police force has started a campaign involving community leaders to help them take on this gigantic challenge.

March against usage of drugs
March against usage of drugs Photo: PTI

Jasleen T, 32, a resident of a middle-class locality in Marol – in suburban Mumbai – has been a drug user since she was 16. Introduced to Ecstasy in the summer vacation of her 16th year by a cousin who lived with her family, Jasleen has tried every drug in her journey as a drug addict. In the years gone by, she has been plagued by health problems, a lack of self-esteem, and hallucinations. Though her family has been very supportive of her condition, Jasleen keeps going back into the habit after bouts of grueling rehabilitation in a facility in south Mumbai. After a suicide bid some months ago, her parents and siblings maintain a round-the-clock vigil ensuring her safety as well as counseling her about her condition.

“She has become a very negative person. Any and everything is taken in a negative spirit. We are scared that she will leave the house in her present condition,” says her mother. “I am not sure the number of years she will be alive, but I know that these will be hell years. The future years will be terrible for her as she is unable to kick the habit now," she says.  

In August this year, the Customs Department seized over 250 kgs of hashish washed ashore on seven beaches in Ratnagiri district in Maharashtra between August 14 and 17. These were washed ashore in different plastic packets. The items have been seized from Karde, Ladghar, Kelshi, Kolthare, Murud, Burundi, Dabhol, and Borya beaches. According to the police, this contraband is of Pakistani and Afghani origin.

Seizure of drugs

In the past five years, there has been an increase in the seizure of drugs in the country. Huge quantities are being seized by law enforcement agencies including the Anti-Narcotics Bureau, Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Indian Coast Guard, Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS), and the police. A report published by the DRI late last year revealed that there have been record seizures of high-value drugs such as cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin by the agency in the last fiscal. Signaling a disturbing trend, the figures revealed that the seizure of highly addictive party drug cocaine has shot up 36-fold to 310 kgs in 2021-2022 from 8.7 kgs in 2020-2021 and a mere 1.1 kg in 2019-2020.  Another high-value party drug methamphetamine has seen a 14-fold increase in seizures by the DRI.

In 2021-2022, an estimated 884.69 kgs were seized in comparison to the 64.39 kgs in 2020-2021.  Besides this, 3,410.71 kgs of heroin was seized in 2021-2022, up 17 times from the previous fiscal. In 2020-2021, heroin amounting to 202 kgs, and 143 kgs in 2019-2020 was seized by the DRI across the country.  
According to the DRI Report, two key trends have emerged in the drug trafficking pattern in recent times. Heroin is being trafficked through known trade routes and innovative methods are being used to conceal the contraband to evade detection during the examination of containers.

Post-COVID-19, this year has marked the highest number of arrests and seizures by the nodal agency in comparison to the last three years. In 2018, the agency registered 193 cases, arrested 269 persons, and seized drugs worth Rs 1,021 crore in the market. In 2019, 514 cases were registered, 595 persons were arrested and drugs worth Rs 67 crore were seized.

Throughout 2022, law enforcement agencies have seized narcotic drugs from different parts of the country. However, Gujarat has emerged as a state where the maximum quantity of drugs has been seized with increasing frequency since 2021 and 2022 has been no different. According to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s World Drug Report 2022, released in June this year, India has emerged as one of the world’s single largest opiate markets in terms of users. The Indian market would likely be vulnerable to an increased supply, as there are already signs that an intensification of trafficking in opiates originating in Afghanistan may be taking place eastwards, the report said.    

According to ATS sources, the porous Gujarat coastline has become an easy smuggling route for drug cartels from other countries. Small manufacturing units processing heroin are mushrooming across Gujarat, said the source. Even without including the narcotics smuggled from other borders of the country, the extensive Gujarat coastline along the Arabia Sea has become a preferred route for drug traffickers, said sources in the know. In 2022, law enforcement agencies seized over 1,300 kg of heroin worth Rs 6,800 crore in various operations carried out in Gujarat, Delhi, and Kolkata.

Following the drug seizures in 2021, the Central Government had entrusted the preliminary investigation of the seizures to the National Investigating Agency. It revealed that the international drug syndicate involved in the smuggling was based out of Pakistan. In 2022, the Gujarat ATS seized 717.3 kgs of drugs valued totally at Rs 3,586 crore. The police had arrested 16 Pakistanis and three Afghan nationals.  

Availability of Mephedrone

The major investigation of the Anti-Narcotics Cell has been regarding the easy availability of Meow Meow, a synthetic drug that can be manufactured at home. Manufacturing units of this illegal drug has seen unbridled growth in the decade and is one of the most popular drugs in the market. Due to the chemical combination of Meow Meow or Mephedrone, even a single dose can get the user hooked on. The mushrooming manufacturing units across Maharashtra and neighboring states are operating out of chemical factories, reveals police data.

These factories manufacture different types of industrial chemicals and have “side units” for synthesizing Mephedrone, say sources. Presently, such chemical factories with Mephedrone synthesizing units are concentrated in Mumbai and the neighbouring Thane, said police sources. Mephedrone has replaced cocaine as a high-end party drug due to its easy availability.

On the streets, Mephedrone is known by various names including Meow Meow, Kit-kat, White Magic, M-kat, and Drone. It is a synthetically manufactured stimulant of the amphetamine and cathinone family, say sources. A gram of mephedrone costs Rs 20,000 and is similarly priced as cocaine. In the past three years, the illegal trade of drugs has seen an upward mobility in prices. In 2021, the cost of a gram of mephedrone was Rs 9000 in the illegal trade market, in 2022 it was priced at 15,000 for a gram. The ongoing year has seen an increase in prices to Rs 20,000 for a gram.

Areas such as Worli, Malad, Jogeshwari, Wadala, Kurla, Chembur, Sewri, Dongri, and Govind in Mumbai and Mumbra and Kalyan have become major trading centres for Mephedrone, say sources. The police are finding it difficult to crack down on the Mephedrone trade, though there have been minor successes in previous years. “One peddler is arrested, another takes his place. They are like a tentacle-growing octopus.
The supply chain is extremely complicated. The peddlers like the consumers are at the bottom rung." 

According to police sources, interrogation of peddlers does not reveal much. “At the most, they can reveal the next rung,” says the source. The police are hit by a paucity of funds, thereby affecting the maintenance of informants. “Developing a network of informants is not an easy task. Today’s policemen lack the knack for developing information. No policeman will stick his neck out to develop contacts with the underworld or criminals,” says the source.

Last year, in December, the Central Government informed the Supreme Court during a hearing that 15.8 million children in the country in the age group 10-17 years are addicted to substances. In recent years, the illegal use of codeine has become common on the streets of Mumbai. While the Mumbai Police has started a sustained campaign to create awareness about drug abuse across the demography, NGOs are partnering with the police to take this campaign forward. Numerous celebrities have joined the Mumbai Police to help them fight this malaise.

“Mumbai is sitting on a drug time bomb. It is ticking away. It is more alarming than any other addictive habit. The increasing number of deaddiction centres are testimony to the huge penetration of drug addiction,” says Shweta Timbare, social worker.