Actor Rhea Chakraborty is behind bars for allegedly procuring, financing and consuming marijuana, and the case has now drawn in other Bollywood stars such as Deepika Padukone, Sara Ali Khan and Shraddha Kapoor.
This is just the latest turn in the controversy over the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, with the narrative conveniently shifting from “conspiracy” — a theory that seems to have fallen flat for the lack of evidence — to Bollywood being a “drug citadel”.
This probe, which now seems to have turned into a smear campaign, is being successfully steered and led by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), a lesser known federal agency responsible for preventing and combating the abuse and trafficking in narcotics.
For long, the NCB has lived in the shadows of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the National Investigation Agency (NIA). But the narcotics bureau is now enjoying its newfound spotlight, courtesy a section of news channels’s interest and relentless coverage of Sushant’s death case.
From being the agency that did the tedious work of gathering intelligence on unauthorised cultivation of opium, seizing psychotropic substances and arresting traffickers, and still go unnoticed, the NCB today finds itself at the forefront of an investigation that appears to have the country transfixed.
And that is why the Narcotics Control Bureau is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
What is the NCB?
NCB was an outcome of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985, which authorised the central government to constitute an authority to prevent and combat abuse of and traffic in narcotics.
In March 1986, the NCB became part of the Department of Revenue (Ministry of Finance) and was tasked with coordinating with the state governments and other authorities, under the NDPS Act, Customs Act, Drugs and Cosmetics Act and any other law, for the enforcement of the provisions of the NDPS Act.
Its role essentially is to prevent the import of narcotics from other countries, check on use, consumption and sale of illicit drugs within India, prevent India from being used as a transit point for narcotics bound for a third country, and stop the export of indigenous narcotics.
The bureau is currently headed by 1984-batch Gujarat cadre IPS officer Rakesh Asthana, known for his long association with Narendra Modi and Amit Shah.
Asthana had to be moved out of the CBI in October 2018 following a public spat with then CBI director Alok Verma after he was booked by the agency in a bribery case. But he was given a clean chit in February this year after no evidence was found against him. In July 2019, Asthana was appointed the NCB’s director general and in August this year, he was also made the chief of Border Security Force (BSF).
Evidence or no evidence
The NCB registered a criminal case against Rhea Chakraborty and five others on 26 August, based on purported WhatsApp chats handed over to it by the Enforcement Directorate (ED), which is looking into a money laundering angle in the actor’s death. During its investigation, the NCB could not find sufficient evidence to arrest either Rhea or others in the case.
Then followed the raids, but no seizures were made from the residence of either Rhea or her brother Showik Chakraborty. Then came a second case (registered two days after the first FIR), which the NCB claimed was lodged to “uproot the drug citadel in Mumbai, especially in Bollywood”.
This caught the fancy of the media and the viewers alike, both hooked to Sushant Rajput’s case, and soon a section of the Hindi film industry began to be labelled as “habitual of drugs”. The NCB, in the meantime, continues to drop new names each day, including from the TV industry.
The NCB’s investigation, which has so far seen 19 people including Rhea and her brother Showik getting arrested, has successfully shifted the focus from the ‘conspiracy’ angle in Sushant Rajput’s death to a “larger drug nexus in Bollywood”.
In connection with its second FIR, the NCB has seized 590 gm of hashish, 0.64 gm of LSD sheets, 304 gm of marijuana, including imported marijuana joints and capsules, Rs 1,85,200 in cash, and 5,000 Indonesian Rupiah from alleged peddlers.
Enter Deepika, Shraddha
Deepika Padukone seems to have become the latest government critic to be at the receiving end of a central agency — after first coming into the line of fire of many Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders for attending a JNU protest meet.
She had visited Jawaharlal Nehru University in January to express solidarity with the protesting students who had been attacked by an armed mob. Deepika soon became the target of social media trolls and BJP supporters, with many even launching a campaign to boycott her film Chappak at the time.
Now she has been summoned by the NCB in connection with its first FIR, which had Rhea as a prime accused, but did not lead to any arrests or seizure of drugs.
Shraddha Kapur and Sara Ali Khan, too, have been summoned but in connection with the second case under which Rhea and 18 others have been arrested.
The NCB has claimed that during its investigation in first case, it found some chats on the phone of Jaya Saha — Sushant Rajput’s talent manager — regarding procurement and consumption of drugs, mainly marijuana. These chats, the NCB claimed, are allegedly between Deepika Padukone and her manager Karishma and date as far back to 2017 and even 2015. The NCB says Deepika is mentioned as “D” in these chats, which is the bureau’s only ‘evidence’ as of now.
In the second case, however, the NCB claims to have evidence of Sara Ali Khan and Shraddha Kapoor talking of procurement of drugs from peddlers.
Whether the NCB will be able to corroborate its claims with evidence is something that remains to be seen. In the meantime, the agency seems to have waged a war against a section of people from the industry, launching a smear campaign to make individuals look “guilty before proven innocent” through selective leaks to channels such as Times Now, India Today and Republic TV, all of which are just too happy to chase any vehicle that may have a Bollywood celebrity inside it.
Views are personal.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.