Hyderabad drug racket: How the city of pearls has turned into a flourishing narcotics hub
'Drug-deliveries take place like pizza and biryani in workspaces, shopping malls, film theatres, schools and colleges,'
The Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Prohibition and Excise Department, set up for drug investigations, has arrested a former NASA scientist Anish Dundoo and a street merchant Ritul Agrawal – who were both peddlers and conduits in the flourishing drug trade in Hyderabad.
The Director General of Police (Prohibition and Excise) Akun Sabharwal says that Anish, 29, worked as a scientist at the Goddard Swain Center of NASA between 2008-09 and later at Siemens. Anish is currently the CEO of his own company Hitech Rickshaws and is studying MBA at HEC Paris University.
"Anish has been a successful techie but turned to drugs after his business venture flopped," said Sabharwal. Ten others from the Telugu film industry, including two former heroes and one heroine, were identified as regular drug users but police refused to divulge their names.
Police and the SIT have also caught another peddler Munna Singh, 47, who was selling ganja (marijuana) and LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) at various points in the IT corridors of Hyderabad (Gacchibowli, Manikonda and Nanakramguda) and also seized large quantities of drugs from him. Another gang led by a tribal lady Surekha has also been netted.
While these seizures are taking place in Telangana, neighbour Andhra Pradesh, too, is cracking down. Andhra police seized 2.5 kgs of ganja and 10 gms of LSD in remote districts abutting border states. Ganja is sold in cigarette form as it is easily transportable in used cigarette packets. "It gives more nasha (intoxication) and costs less," says Bonti Prakash, a tribal student.
Farmers of Telangana and Andhra bordering Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra illegally grow ganja and also allegedly assist in transporting drugs across borders to beat police attention. "There is a huge demand for ganja in several northern states – Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Bihar and Chhattisgarh – where it is openly sold as beverages mixed with milk and Coca-Cola," says a senior police official.
Public uproar over drug availability
Both the Telugu states are now struggling to handle public uproar as a disturbing drug market has come to light in Hyderabad. The magnitude of LSD, MDMA (ecstasy and molly), cocaine, AGS, aprodine, opium and ganja available among the youth – mostly school-going youth and teens in degree colleges – has got parents worried.
"Drugs are now door-delivered like pizza and biryani in workspaces, shopping malls, film theatres, schools and colleges," city-based BJP Mahila leader P Karuna said last week.
But the rulers of Telangana, the Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS), term it as a legacy handed over by the past rulers of undivided Andhra – the Congress and the Telugu Desam Party. "One should be happy that at least now the new government is able to crack the whip on the drug menace. It is a legacy of the ten-year-long Congress regime we are carrying," said Yerrolla Srinivas, a TRS spokesman, continuing the blame game.
Alarms sounded in Hyderabad
The arrest of eight drug peddlers in a sting operation by the Telangana Prohibition and Excise Enforcement wing last week led to the unravelling of the dark side of the flourishing IT hub.
A call list retrieved from the mobile phone of one peddler, Nikhil Shetty, led the police to nab the kingpin of the drug cartel led by Calvin Mascarenhas and Brendon Ben, another peddler. The WhatsApp chats on Shetty's phone opened up the Pandora’s Box of a flourishing drug trade in the state capital.
"It got us a network of 18 gangs and identities of almost 3000 youth – school and college girls and boys as their regular customers – a horrifying revelation," says an official of the SIT. Seven aides of Mascarenhas – Mohammed Abdul-Wahid, Mohammed Abdul Quddush, Kundan Singh, Aman Naidu, Nikhil Shetty, Ravi Kiran and Brendon Ben are in custody.
Notices have been sent to 20 of the top private schools and colleges in Hyderabad, informing them about multiple users from their schools. The Prohibition and Excise Department, however, has not revealed the names of students to the schools. Among the names on the clients' list on Calvin's phone are about 20 sons and daughters of top politicians, film artists besides children of some IPS, IAS officers and journalists in the city.
"We are not interested in punishing the boys and girls, but only seek their help to identify other peddlers and the gangs who gave them regular supply," said DGP Sabharwal. "We aim to strike at the root of the drug menace in the city."
Who are the kingpins?
A look at the profiles of the peddlers throws up a familiar pattern – that they were addicts first and later became sellers in the thriving drug trade. Six of the peddlers are BTech graduates, one was a car rental agency operator and the third, an event manager for upmarket hotels. The city police has issued advisories to all schools and colleges to monitor the behaviour of students and take corrective steps.
They were also asked to not allow ice cream, chaat and fruit vendors around the institutions and instructed to make available these food items in good quality at subsidised rates in the canteens. "It is such lapses that give room for peddlers to camp outside and offer the ‘goodies’ in the excuse of selling condiments and ice cream,' says DGP Sabharwal.
It was the groundwork of 30 days by a team of excise officials that resulted in the sting operation to plug the contraband. "We spent Rs 50,000 to infiltrate gangs and after buying small quantities of LSD we upped the ante for bulk supply whereby the peddlers led us to the big fish who were suppliers of high-end narcotics in and around Hyderabad," added the DGP.
What drives the drug trade?
Peer pressure appears to be a prime factor pushing young teens towards LSD, molly or blot. Usage appears to have increased ahead of exams or quarterly tests. "Boys and girls turn to such short cuts to outperform their classmates," says Dr Challa Geeta, a psychiatrist who is also a health consultant to some corporate schools and colleges.
Mallu Ravi, Congress leader and former Delhi Representative of the Andhra government, put the blame squarely on policing and authorities as mushrooming educational institutions had become dens of such illegal activities. "There are engineering colleges, degree colleges without sufficient classrooms and teachers and the students are left to themselves. In the past, students used to go to films bunking classes, now they go to bars and rave parties, which have brought them closer to drugs in broad daylight in the heart of the cities," he said.
BJP Mahila leader P Karuna says that at least now there should be an open debate on the issue. She lampooned the authorities for not publicising the names of institutions which could be part of the cartel, choosing to protect them instead. "Don’t hide names and institutions. Only then people will realise their fault. Just as what has happened to rape victims and rapists from hiding information... same thing will repeat in case of drug abusers and also drug cartel – they flourish at the cost of our silence," she argued.
TRS leader Yerolla Srinivas, however, said that Opposition parties should thank the TRS government at least now as they did not put a lid on happenings during their regimes. "Please appreciate the police officers who organised a sting operation which has led to such a large exposure on the activities of the drug cartel in Hyderabad. It is not just the Nigerians or Bangla refugees that are selling drugs but there are many players behind the cartel and our government is sincere in cracking the syndicate," he said.
In Andhra, ganja was grown in the Andhra-Odisha border areas including Srikakulam district and the tribal belt of Visakhapatnam and Vizianagaram with the patronisation of Maoists and local smugglers. Now the Maoists' domination has reduced but ganja and other drug movements are controlled by national and international smugglers, allegedly in collusion with local police and CRPF.
A recent report of the Narcotics wing of Andhra police says that 40 percent of drug addicts are blackmailed to become peddlers, couriers and stockists. "Drugs cartel is about Rs 3,200 crore in Telangana and Rs 2,400 crore in Andhra Pradesh," claims the report distributed among MLAs and MPs after a recent review meeting at Amaravati. Chief Minister Chandrababu Naidu directed officials to deal with it with a heavy hand.
"Rave parties on boats and island villages of coastal Andhra have been attracting students, corrupt officials, moneyed IT workers regularly," says the report. In 2015, 240 kilograms of AGS, 20 kilograms of Apridin, 10 kilograms of heroin, and four kilograms of cocaine were seized in Andhra. Drugs enter the state through illegal means, from the borders of four states and the 970 km long coastline.
Police say that the modus operandi of sale and distribution was through WhatsApp and other social media. Payments are made online to discreet bank accounts and through Bitcoin. "We thought Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata were prime drug spots, but Hyderabad and Bangalore have joined the drug map in a big way," says a senior police official at Visakhapatnam.
The huge infrastructure activity unleashed in both the states involving thousands of workers from other states and countries like Singapore, China and Malaysia, is also seen as a supply chain opportunity for cartels. "The Chinese and South East Asian nationals are considered the best concrete layers in the world, who work non-stop and are known to work with drugs," says a civil contractor at Amaravati, where about 3,000 foreigners are currently working.
Police say that whenever there is fresh stock, peddlers would send their quotes to clients on WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook, offering high discounts for bulk orders. "Peddlers often want to get rid of stock and also sometimes stock with addicts as a safe zone," said Andhra Pradesh DGP Sambashiv Rao. Andhra police has been cracking down on land routes of ganja and LSD from Odisha, Chhattisgarh and the sea routes off Andaman, Gangavaram, Vizag, Krishnapatnam, Machilipatnam and Bhavanapadu ports.
Social activists and columnists like G Muniratnam of the RASS (Rashtriya Seva Samithi) in Tirupati say that drugs are popular in Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra not only among city folk but also villagers. "There is an urgent need to monitor and control its splurge in villages and towns or it would drive families bankrupt and drive them to suicides. Farmers, businessmen, unemployed youth and distressed women are becoming slaves to drugs," he says.
Police report that dealers make pre-sale offers of new drugs with rave parties in Hyderabad or Bengaluru and attract flocks from Mumbai, Chennai and Pune. "They offer free airfare and boarding for participation and book rooms and convention halls in three-star to five-star hotels for the occasion in the name of some medical or club summits," said police sources.
"They are young, technically qualified, well educated, well paid but into the deadly drug racket as they are procuring LSD and MDMA through the dark web (internet). With the arrest of a major kingpin Brendon Ben, it hopefully is curtains down on LSD procurement and its sale in and around Hyderabad. I keep my fingers crossed when I say this, at least till a new gang gets on the scene and then we will be back to the pavilion," added the senior police official.
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