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Toxic trail: how Punjab's drug trade may have enabled #PathankotAttack

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:13 IST
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The trade

  • The Pathankot attack has put the spotlight on Punjab\'s drug trade
  • Reason: drug smugglers could have sheltered attackers, moved arms
  • The attackers could have crossed border in the garb of smugglers

The network

  • The trade is run by a nexus of smugglers, cops, BSF men, politicians
  • Cops, BSF men at border pickets are allegedly paid to facilitate smuggling
  • Local politicians are so deeply involved that drugs are named after them

As the postmortem of the Pathankot attack gets underway, the law and order in Punjab is coming under increased scrutiny. In particular, the nexus of drug and arms smugglers, politicians, police and BSF officials, and civil servants that is alleged to have facilitated the strike.

The state's former DGP SS Virk insisted that the "practice of selling pickets" to the smugglers by some personnel of the police and the BSF could have led to the terrorists infiltrating into India.

Punjab's border areas seen a massive spike in drug smuggling over the past few years. This, sources in the know point out, could not have been possible without "a nexus of law enforcing agencies and the smugglers who operate under the patronage of politicians". Indeed, names of politicians have been cropping up now and again for their alleged role in the drug smuggling.

Also read: The good & the bad of Pathankot operation: from a soldier's viewpoint

Under a cloud

Sources told Catch that things have come to a pass that the drugs being consumed are often named after local politicians. And they are so common that prices are quite low.

In the border districts of Gurdaspur, Tarn Taran, Pathankot, Amritsar and Ferozepur, opium is sold for Rs 1.20 lakh per kg, poppy husk for Rs 4,000 a kg and heroin for Rs 10 lakh per kg. Two doses of Chitta, as smack is called locally, go for around Rs 300. The prices in the international market are said to be several times higher.

According to sources, the police have registered some 18,000 cases against consumers, peddlers and smugglers of drugs in the past two years alone. This despite the fact that the local police is often "a tool in the smuggling setup".

In 2013, former DSP Jagdish Singh Bhola, accused of running a major synthetic drug racket, had confessed to funding politicians during the last assembly election.

Also read: Here's what we know about the ongoing Pathankot terror attack so far

He had named the minister Bikram Singh Majithia as a "key mastermind" of the state's drug trade. Majithia is the brother of Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the daughter-in-law of Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal and union minister for food processing. Majithia had dismissed the allegations as an attempt to malign him.

The same year, Maninder Singh Aulakh alias Bittu, a leader of the ruling Akali Dal leader, and Jagjit Singh Chahal, a businessman, were arrested for drug smuggling. Aulakh reportedly told his interrogators that he would use government vehicles for transporting drugs.

On the take

Across the Indo-Pak border, drugs are moved in various ways. Packets of drugs, as heavy as 3-4 kg, are flung over across the fenced border with the help of catapults. Reportedly, while the security forces manning the border "get the impression of a bird in flight, it's actually packets of contraband landing".

The smugglers have also used PVC pipes, stuffing them with drugs and throwing them over across the fence.

But the most astonishing is the practice of border pickets being "sold". The smugglers allegedly pay hefty amounts to police and BSF personnel manning the pickets to look the other way while they move drugs across the border.

"There are black sheep in the police and the BSF who have been doing this. The practice has seen a spike since 2007," said Virk.

Also read: Exclusive: India tipped off on 25 Dec about Pathankot. Even as Modi met Sharif

This is a weakness the terrorist could have exploited. "The BSF would never have allowed infiltration of the terrorists," Virk added. "But maybe they came in as drug smugglers."

Virk claimed that six months ago, the state police had "resisted" the NIA investigation into the Gurdaspur attack. On 27 July, three gunmen wearing army uniforms had opened fire on a bus and then stormed the Dina Nagar police station, leaving three civilians and four policemen, including an SP dead, and at least 15 people injured. All three attackers were later killed.

"That was an act of aggression by elements from the neighbouring country, just like the Mumbai attack some years ago. Had the Dina Nagar case been properly cracked, the Pathankot attack may have been averted," the former DGP said.

Playing politics with security?

One of the key reasons cited for the deteriorating law and order situation is the state governments' reluctance to appoint IPS officers to key positions. It prefers officers of the state cadre, the Punjab Police Service. The opposition has alleged this is being done for political benefit.

According to some reports, of the Punjab's 27 districts, IPS officers are at the helm in only Bathinda, Muktasar and Hoshiarpur. In nine districts, the post of SSP is being held by state cadre officers promoted to IPS. In the rest, the post is with Punjab Police Service, or PPS, officers.

Indeed, at the time of the Pathankot attack, even the sensitive border districts did not have a single IPS officer as SSP.

"Some of the PPS officers are obliging" to their political bosses, Virk said. Most of the IPS officers, on the other hand, resist interference in their work by politicians.

Also read: #PathankotAttack: Modi has 3 choices. He needs to pick one and stick to it

Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, however, has insisted that "there is no basis for questioning the suitability of PPS officers". He has pointed out that except the Dina Nagar and Pathankot attacks, "not a single such incident took place over the past eight years when the same PPS officers were posted".

Another practice that has come under the scanner is appointing an SAD leader as Halka In Charge in every constituency. These leaders have been accused of "dictating terms" to the local administration and police.

Congress leader Sunil Jakhar who has raised the issue in the assembly said, "They have destroyed the very policing system and are virtually running the police stations. Officers up to the rank of DSP are answerable to these Halka in-charges. They even dictate terms to more senior officers."

Also read: #PathankotArrest: why this TV spectacle was disgraceful and dangerous Pathankot anti-terror operation: Gaping holes & questions galore

First published: 11 January 2016, 9:17 IST
 
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