Drug Trafficking: a problem that resonates and reinforces itself in just about every part of the world. The term itself might lead you to think of the cult film ‘the Godfather’, of drug cartels, gunfire and exciting car chases across boundary lines. Or it might lead to thoughts of old Chinese opium dens and smoky alleyways. However these are the romanticised versions, accredited solely to pop culture encouraged by movies and fiction.
In actuality, drug trafficking usually involves the common man acting as a drug mule (likely coerced into doing so) for higher powers that manage to remain anonymous themselves. India is perhaps not a place one might associate with this particular illegal activity, when in fact it takes place here in spades.
Let us start by examining out north eastern borders and the region known as the ‘Golden Triangle’. The phrase refers to the region between the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand, widely known for opium production and therefore producing the vast majority of the illicit drug trade in the North East. The situation is such that not only are drugs from the Golden Triangle being brought into India, but the same routes are being used to smuggle narcotics out of India, thus creating a two-way corridor for illegal trade in drugs. This has several long lasting repercussions for the area, one of the most significant of which is the funding it inadvertently provides for the insurgent groups in the North East area.
Making the situation worse is the growing linkage between arms, drugs and insurgency that gets inculcated due to their dependence on each other- illustrated by the fact that insurgents source funds from drug trafficking in order to procure the weapons they need to fight the government. Earlier they relied solely on collecting taxes from households, government contractors, transporters, businessmen etc.
The narcotics smuggled by the drug lords of the Golden Triangle has mostly been heroin- even supplying half the world’s heroin a decade or so ago- but in more recent times certain drug barons in Myanmar turned to trafficking amphetamines and methamphetamines, since these can be produced cheaply and at a faster rate. Needless to say, insurgents hiding out in Myanmar are heavily funded by trafficking of narcotics.
Some of you may be wondering at the seeming lack of action taken by the Myanmar government; they’re actually at a position where there’s little they can do as the traffickers are well organised Chinese syndicates, and the situation of Chinese influence in Myanmar is known to all.
It is also important to note that drug smuggling operations in the North East have a larger impact than what is perhaps expected, as the drugs smuggled in don’t just go to the rest of the country but also reach the outside world through Indian and Bangladeshi ports and airports. As for the direct implications it has for the North Eastern states of India: first and foremost this opening up to South-East Asia has a two-pronged result- on one hand this could enable the influx of potential development and investments, while on the other there is the obvious danger of an increased number of illegal arms being smuggled in. Secondly, it is of paramount importance for India to start enforcing effective drug control mechanisms/legislations to control the illicit trade to the best of its capability. It is also vital that India enter talks of co-operation with countries like China, Myanmar and Thailand to counter the illegal activity from its grassroot level.
Thus, it’s proximity to the Golden Triangle and even the Golden Crescent (Afghanistan-Pakistan-Iran) has definitely made India’s border vulnerable to narcotics trafficking. Afghanistan is known to be the largest centre of poppy cultivation in the world, supplying it through long routes in Central Asia (including the Old Silk Route) to far off places such as Russia and European countries, as well as passing it through Pakistan and Iran to reach regions in other directions.
The rapidly growing trafficking of illicit substances on the West Bengal- Bangladesh front is fast becoming a matter of concern for the Indian officials posted on the border. Places like Murshidabad and Bongaon in Bengal have become pretty convenient routes for smuggling drugs. These included both drugs produced in Uttar Pradesh going to Bangladesh as well as drugs originating in the Golden Triangle circuit of trafficking, entering India via Bangladesh.
It goes without saying that in the issue of drug trafficking into/out of India, Goa can pretty much be called a hotspot. This illegal trade has flourished in Goa largely due to the high amount of Russian mafia influence in the state. These drug lords made their way into Goa through the tourism industry decades ago and proceeded to purchase large tracts of land in areas such as Morjim and Arambol, which are in fact now referred to as ‘Little Russia’ by the locals. The ‘Russian mafia’ is now arguably the strongest in terms of numbers (and thus the most influential) organised crime group in Goa, and the members are even said to enjoy immunity due to the existence of a police-drug mafia nexus.
The Russians aren’t the only culprits in Goa’s drug trafficking though, as Israeli and Nigerian drug lords are quite the menace as well; between all 3 groups there’s a good amount of drugs like MDMA, Ecstasy and Cocaine being smuggled.
Therefore we have examined the issue of drug trafficking in India with regards to the various border states of India that it plagues. As is mentioned earlier, trends of drug trafficking within the country indicate a paradigm shift from what are traditional or natural drugs, towards synthetic drugs.
The only way forward in dealing with this crisis is to identify the fact that the problems caused by illicit drug trading aren’t limited to law and order issues alone; the health-wise impact on society is devastating. The UNODC Executive Director pointed out that in recent times, spread of HIV/AIDS has been going hand-in-hand with extensive drug usage. Besides that, there exists an ever-growing nexus of crime between drug trafficking, human trafficking and terrorism, as those embroiled in one of these evils will almost certainly dabble in another. These hidden crime rings have caused grave concern all over the world.
India’s narcotics trafficking scenario is precariously poised at the moment with the recent agreement on the Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor blueprint, which will enable India to access markets in China’s west and southwest, through the North-eastern borders. It is quite likely that the quantity of illicit narcotics will greatly increase with this new connectivity in place.
In conclusion, although India has made attempts to control this problem by adopting strategies of reduction of drug supply and demand, it needs to act on a much higher scale involving a 3 tier approach: firstly, strengthening of existing laws and possibly creation of new ones, secondly increasing security at the borders; and lastly actively co-operating with neighbouring countries and other members of the international community. At the grassroots level it is of significant importance to address the social impact of drug addiction in an efficient manner, through ensuring that schools/college students are aware of the health and legal consequences, establishing proper rehabilitation centres in places that may lack them, such as certain regions in the North East which are affected directly but aren’t properly equipped with treatment options.
– Shambhavi Sarmah