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No ‘narcotics jihad’, Kerala cops say spike in drugs came after alcohol dried up in lockdown

Inflow & consumption of marijuana & heroin started rising as alcohol became unavailable during lockdown, say senior police officers. Kerala DGP admits drug use spiked, but doesn’t link it to alcohol.

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New Delhi: Kerala has seen a significant rise in both trafficking and consumption of narcotics in the last one and a half years.

But there is absolutely no evidence that it’s due to what a Catholic bishop from the state alleged and called it “narcotics jihad” – Muslims supplying drugs and making Christian youth “addicted” to them, top police and enforcement officers said.

The main reason for this spike, they said, is that many people took to drugs — mainly marijuana and heroin — as the sale of alcohol was affected during the pandemic.

“After the pandemic hit, liquor shops were closed because of the lockdown. The state has a high consumption rate of alcohol, and that is when the drug market took over. There was a spike in the inflow of drugs, the consumption also increased,” a senior police officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told ThePrint.

The officer said seizures under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act has gone up by a whopping 600 per cent since 2020.

Speaking to ThePrint, Kerala’s Director General of Police Anil Kant admitted that the state had seen a spike in drug consumption and trafficking in the past year, but stopped short of linking it to the unavailability of alcohol during the Covid lockdown.

“We are questioning the people arrested to identify reasons for the spike,” Kant said. “There have been a lot of seizures in the past one year. Cases are under investigation.”

Last week, Joseph Kallarangatt, bishop of the Palai diocese of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, made a controversial statement claiming that Muslims in the state had launched a “narcotics jihad” by supplying drugs and making Christian youth “addicted to drugs”.

Kallarangatt also said that “various types of drugs are being used in ice-cream parlours, hotels and juice corners run by hardcore jihadis. They are using various types of drugs as a weapon to spoil non-Muslims”.

While sources in the Kerala Police refuted allegations of those arrested for alleged sale and purchase of narcotics being from any particular community (or being predominantly Muslims), numbers shared by them reveal that the quantity of narcotics seized in the state since 2020 has shown an increase.


Also read: Rich, wealth-flashing drug peddlers NCB is looking for. They are the ‘pandemic brats’


Trading on the dark web

Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka source 10-15 per cent of their total revenue from excise duty on liquor sales and collectively account for 45 per cent of the total alcohol consumption in the country, according to a report published by analytics company Crisil last year.

Last year’s lockdown, the report said, severely affected the revenue earned by these states because of reduced liquor sales.

Meanwhile, the business in drugs picked up, according to sources in the Kerala Police, because peddlers even found ways to deliver narcotics at home.

“Many gangs were active during the lockdown who were dealing in drugs either on the dark web or physically procuring from agents — some of them even delivering at people’s homes,” the police officer quoted above said.

Other security agencies besides Kerala Police too claimed that the average consumption of narcotics in Kerala had been going up since last year. “We have come across cases of parents who are concerned that their children have fallen prey to drugs,” said a source in one security agency.


Also read: Fish are getting addicted to meth as illegal drugs pollute water bodies, study finds


Seizures went up manifold

“Not just the sale and purchase, but the seizures of drugs went up manifold. We seized truckloads of marijuana in areas like Palakkad, Malapuram, and Kasargod,” said the senior police officer quoted above.

“Since the demand for the drug increased, the supply too increased. Marijuana came in big bulk. Then there were other drugs too, including ecstasy and heroin which are being seized on a daily basis in small quantities.”

“The source of cannabis is also the forest area in Visakhapatnam. We recently seized over 3,500 kg of good quality contraband which was coming from Visakhapatnam and going to Mumbai.”

According to data accessed by ThePrint, in Kochi, eight kilograms of contraband, including meth, hashish and ganja, were seized in 2019 and nine people were arrested by the Narcotics Control Bureau. In 2020, over 10 kg of contraband were seized and three people were arrested. However, in 2021, 645 kg of contraband, which included heroin and meth, were seized, and 19 people were arrested.

A second Kerala Police officer claimed that the seizure of heroin in the state has increased by 50 per cent since 2020.

“The seizure of heroin has increased by 50 per cent in the past year. A lot of youngsters are also involved in dealing drugs, many are also selling and purchasing on the dark web,” the officer alleged.

The increase in seizures, according to the security source quoted above, is not just because of increased sale and purchase of drugs, but also because law enforcement agencies have become more alert and initiated a strict crackdown.


Also read: Mumbai couple acquitted in drug case in Qatar, to return after 2 yrs with baby born in jail


Drugs coming by sea and by air

According to a 2019 report by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime, cannabis herb continued to be seized in much larger quantities than cannabis resin and cannabis oil. The largest quantities of cannabis herb seized in 2019 (which totalled 3,779 tons globally) were reported by the United States, followed by Paraguay, Colombia, India, Nigeria, Morocco, and Brazil.

The largest LSD seizures in 2019 were reported by India, followed by Venezuela, Australia, and Argentina.

A third Kerala Police officer claimed that many youngsters were taking up the business of drug trafficking because “it pays well”.

According to the source, 1 gram of cocaine or heroin fetches over Rs 1,500, and 1 gram of marijuana in urban cities fetches over Rs 1,000.

“Most of the drugs are coming from the sea route via the Golden Crescent (one of the principal opium-producing areas in Asia). The most popular drug in Kerala is heroin. It comes from Pakistan and Iran via Sri Lanka, through fishing boats,” the officer claimed.

“The consignments are also coming via air cargo, with people from African countries coming on medical visas,” he added.

The officer further claimed that another source of drugs coming into southern India is through Myanmar.

“Meth is coming from Myanmar. It reaches Assam and then Chennai through that route. From Chennai, it is also going to Sri Lanka and even Maldives,” the officer claimed. “In many cases, we also found that handlers sitting in Europe were controlling the drug market in Kerala through the internet, by engaging traffickers and ensuring deliveries,” he claimed.

“In many cases of drugs that are being reported from southern parts of India, there are Kerala links that have been emerging. We are keeping a close watch,” he added.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)


Also read: Punjab govt to reward those who provide information that lead to drugs recovery


 

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