The dry state is shifting towards other forms of intoxicants as agencies remain on their toes to keep drugs at bay. (Express photo)
Inmates of Naya Jeevan De-addiction Centre, located between rusty government buildings in Mirzapur area of old city Ahmedabad, are busy sharing jokes and anecdotes in the evening. Dressed in pyjamas and T-shirts, the men, between the age of 18 and 60 years, have bonded well with each other, as well as with the staff. During sessions, they open up to each other, share their memory of the first time they did drugs.
According to those running the facility, the older inmates are usually alcoholic, while the younger lot are hooked to drugs.
Gujarat used to be a preferred conduit for drug cartels operating from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Cases filed by enforcement agencies in the past one year suggest that drugs are not only supplied from foreign sources but local ones are also available -- a hemp farm owned by an 80-year-old farmer was found in a village in Amreli, and in another instance, a consignment of heroin was dumped in the Arabian Sea off Kutch by smugglers across the international border.
Youngsters and children at the centre said they had smoked marijuana and hashish, snorted cocaine and brown sugar, sniffed whiteners and glues, and gulped painkillers and sleeping pills to get a “high”. The Naya Jeevan De-addiction Centre (NJDC) team claims that of late they have seen an upward trend in more young people visiting them for de-addiction.
“Apart from those who visit our centre, we also conduct studies in sensitive areas where children are prone to substance abuse. We have noticed that many of them are using ganja (marijuana), charas (hashish), brown sugar, whitener, cough syrup bottles. From pan parlours to city slums, drugs are available easily in Ahmedabad,” says Alpa Vyas, coordinator, Naya Jeevan De-addiction Centre.
In the backdrop of Prohibition Act in place in Gujarat, the dry state is shifting towards other forms of intoxicants as state’s agencies remain on their toes to keep the drugs at bay. Enforcement agencies and counsellors have found usage of marijuana, hashish, opium, LSD, brown sugar and cocaine among the youth of Gujarat, particularly in Ahmedabad and Surat. Some major busts of cross-border drug consignments by security agencies suggest that the long standing theory of “Gujarat being just the gateway of drugs to India and not a user” might change.
An 18-year-old youth (name withheld on request) of Ramdev Nagar in Ahmedabad has been admitted to a government-aided drug rehab centre in Meghaninagar for the past one month. One day he suddenly collapsed after experiencing a seizure following whitener overdose. It was then that his parents realised that their child was addicted to glue and brought him to the centre.
In another case, a 24-year-old resident of a posh society in Vasna area of Ahmedabad was admitted to a private de-addiction centre in Parimal Garden. The patient was an addict of brown sugar and according to doctors treating him, it took 15 days of heavy medication for him to resist any temptation for the drug.
In both the cases, counsellors and parents testified that their child had no difficulty in procuring drugs from the peddlers who were introduced to him by his peer group or work friends in Ahmedabad.
Dr Shraddha Rai is a counsellor and director of Naya Jeevan De-addiction Centre, who has been treating addicts for the past 30 years in Ahmedabad. Her centre is one of the three state government-aided units in Ahmedabad, under the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Apart from the three government-aided centres, there are six to seven private rehab centres run by private hospital trusts in Ahmedabad.
“Youngsters have told us how easy it is for them to get brown sugar from paan shops in the city. All they have to say is a code name for the contraband such as ‘cheeni’, ‘white sugar’, ‘whitener’. For the past two to three years, we have seen a surge in alcohol and brown sugar addiction among youth and the age group of our patients have dropped from 25-30 to 18-25 at the de-addiction centre,” Rai says.
There are 15 beds in her de-addiction centre where inmates are treated for a 21-day period and then counselled for six months after they are released. According to official figures of 2018-19, a total of 216 addicts visited the centre out of which 109 belonged to age group of 12-20 and 21-30. In total, 122 were treated for alcohol-related problem and 145 for drugs. The addicts belong to every social strata as counsellors believe that parents fail to notice early signs of drug abuse.
“Usually both parents of addicts are working professionals and they have no idea what’s going on in their children’s lives until it’s too late. Change in sleeping or eating pattern, extreme anger fits are signs which one should notice,” says Vyas. Another trend that has been noticed is that many youth are also into sleeping pills.
“We have addicts of marijuana, brown sugar, whitener, and even kerosene in our de-addiction centre. Usually, we keep our patients under medication for the first 15 days where they experience ‘withdrawal symptoms’ where they suffer from mental and physical trauma. Many youth have turned to sleeping pills as they claim that they cannot sleep properly without its usage in their withdrawal period,” said Dr Rai.
Gateway for smuggling
On January 5 this year, the Gujarat Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) and Indian Coast Guard (ICG) seized 35 kg of heroin worth Rs 175 crore and arrested five Pakistani nationals from a boat mid-sea off Gujarat coast near Jakhau port in Kutch. This was a part of the “terror-drug” module adopted by the Pakistani and international drug peddlers to infiltrate the narcotics in the Indian market. The biggest seizure of narcotics under this module was also carried out by ICG in July 2017 when they had seized 1,500 kg heroin worth Rs 3,700 crore off Gujarat Coast followed by another bust of 100 kg heroin in a joint operation with ATS in March 2019 and seizure of 200 kg heroin worth Rs 500 crore near Jakhau coast in May 2019.
The Election Commission of India (ECI) in its Model Code of Conduct (MCC) report of 2019 before the general elections had rated Gujarat as the leading state in drug related seizures with capture of over 520 kg of narcotics, including heroin and marijuana, in a span of four months.
The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) Ahmedabad Zone in 2019 seized 100.78 kg ganja, 19.19 kg hashish, 192.73 kg poppy spray, 0.16 kg cocaine and several tablets of Lorazepam, Clonazipam, Chlordiazepox, Alprazolam and Codeine Phosphate (cough syrup) bottles, as per official reports.
Security agencies have stressed that Gujarat coast is being used as a gateway for smuggling drugs to India by international smugglers and Gujarat waters are also used to ship the contraband such as opium from ‘Golden crescent’ (landlocked area between Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran) to Europe and other countries.
“Though often it has been noticed that the trend of drug abuse is on the rise, there are no substantial inputs to say that all drugs were brought into Gujarat for local consumption,” said Shailendra Mishra, zonal director, NCB, Ahmedabad. However, recent small seizures of chemical drugs by multiple agencies in Gujarat and increasing trend of youth trying chemical drugs suggest that Gujarat might not only be a gateway for narcotics but also an avid user.
On November 14, 2019, a police team stumbled upon a farmland on the outskirts of Suvagdah village in Amreli where they found ‘hemp’ plants being grown. It took police more than 36 hours to remove 1,766 kg of hemp plant, valued at around Rs 90 lakh. Hemp is a strain from the ‘Cannabis Sativa’ plant, popularly known as marijuana, and it usually serves industrial purposes. However, hemp strains, although containing lower level of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) than other strains such as Cannabis Indica (used as marijuana or ganja), is used for intoxication purposes.
The main accused in this case was 80-year-old Lakhman Goletar, who along with his three sons, was growing the plants for the past 3-4 months. According to a senior police official in Amreli, “Goletar family has been supplying weed to priests in temples across Gujarat for the past many years. He considers hemp plants as ‘prasad’ (offering) of God. Earlier, the quantity he had cultivated was less, however, this time, he wanted to do business with it.”
Then again, on January 14, police arrested a man in Rajkot for cultivating over 3 kg ganja plants and seized 8kg marijuana leaves from him.
Agencies believe that over the years, the usage of home-grown, cheap quality marijuana has increased among the residents. Often cheap to cultivate, the plants can even be grown inside homes if one follows proper procedures.
“Under Section 46 of NDPS Act, 1985 it is duty of a land holder to give information of illegal cultivation. Every holder of land shall give immediate information to any officer of police or of any of the departments mentioned in Section 42 of all the opium poppy, cannabis plant or coca plant which may have been illegally cultivated within his land and every such holder of land who knowingly neglects to give such information, shall be liable to punishment. Based on information, NCB too takes action. Recently, to improve coordination mechanism among agencies of affected districts, NCORD district level committees have been formed which are mandated to meet every quarter,” said Mishra.
Another place where home grown weed is easily available is Ramdev Nagar. An urban ghetto located between posh localities of Ahmedabad, Ramdev Nagar is plagued with marijuana and alcohol addiction where children as young as 12 years are into drugs.
“The entire locality is plagued with alcohol and weed addiction as children are introduced to it at a very young age. Weed is supplied to Ramdev Nagar from surrounding areas,” said Madhuben Naik, a field worker associated with Vicharta Samuday Samarthan Manch (VSSM).
The Odisha connection
On June 1, 2019, the Ahmedabad Crime Branch seized 150 kg marijuana from a vehicle on the Vadodara Nadiad highway. The contraband was being brought from a godown in Surat for distribution in different areas of Ahmedabad.
Following this seizure, on August 10, 2019 , a team of Ahmedabad Crime Branch raided the premises of a godown in Surat and seized 332 kg marijuana said to be smuggled from Odisha. Police had identified the prime accused as a person named Vikki alias Deepu, a native of Odisha, who used to supply marijuana to users in Surat. According to police, Vikki had given his phone number to customers where they had to make a call, put their demand and mention their vehicle number. Vikki then used to supply the narcotics by offloading it in the trunk of his customer’s vehicle.
The biggest seizure of marijuana shipped from Odisha to Surat happened on November 7, 2019, where police caught a truck with 1,000 kg marijuana worth Rs 1 crore. Police also arrested five persons in the case who were allegedly involved in the racket.
On February 3, another raid was conducted by police in GIDC area of Surat where 750 kg marijuana brought from Odisha was seized. “Based on past seizures it can be said that drugs are carried/trafficked by couriers using all modes of transport - private transport vehicles, public means of transport, rail, through concealment in posts/couriers.” said Mishra.
The way ahead
While agencies in Gujarat are on their toes to nab the national and international level drug racket, counsellors believe that it is equally necessary for the society as a whole to rise against drug use.
The Naya Jeevan de-addiction centre has started a community outreach programme where field workers and counsellors will visit drugs-prone areas in Ahmedabad and try to reach out to children.
“Our focus is to reach out to such children who might have just begun taking drugs or have chances of falling prey to it. Till now, we have identified areas such as Mirzapur, Gomtipur, Vatva and Jamalpur for our project,” said Vyas.
Shailendra Mishra, the zonal director of NCB Ahmedabad, recently took a session for parents in order to help them understand drug abuse among their children.
“The most common reasons for drug abuse are peer pressure, curiosity, boredom, adventure and an urge to become a rebel, stress and anxiety and as a means of recreation. The consumption of drugs have mental, physical and legal repercussions. What parents can do is to not react impulsively as soon as they find out about it, discuss with their children with an open mind and encourage them to get involved in family or fun based activities,” said Mishra.
He further adds that security agencies are now collaborating with NGOs to discourage the youth from taking to drugs.
“NCB apart from doing usual law enforcement work, also make general public aware about ill effects of drug abuse. We organise drug awareness seminars in schools and colleges too. Whenever any college or institution requests us to organise such sessions, we make sure our representation is there. NCB is prime drug law enforcement organisation, however, we don’t run any drug rehab programs,” said Mishra.