Police expose narcotic trade centred on rented spaces

The seizure of two loads of banned tobacco products at Perumbavoor earlier this week seems to have exposed a thriving business model centred on rented shop rooms and houses.

The Perumbavoor police had on Sunday seized banned tobacco products from 12 shop rooms that eventually filled up two tipper lorries during a drive focussed on rented rooms on the direction of K. Karthik, District Police Chief (Ernakulam Rural).

Since then, Mr. Karthik has formed a special investigation team (SIT) led by Deputy Superintendent of Police N.R. Jayaraj to probe the incident. “We are after the organised network behind the large-scale smuggling in of tobacco products. While the products are largely smuggled in from other States, their business would not be possible without the cooperation of locals,” said Mr. Karthik.

The rooms from which the products were seized had been shut for long, according to neighbours. Several shop rooms, which were closed down following the lockdown and have not opened since then, seem to be easily available for such clandestine activities.

“The 12 rooms seem to have been converted into storerooms for banned tobacco products, which were then surreptitiously retrieved in the night for sale in smaller lots,” said Rahul Raveendran, Station House Officer, Perumbavoor, and a member of the SIT.

Perumbavoor being the hub of the migrant community that is largely dependent on tobacco products, the business model seems to make sense. The police have identified nearly 50 different types of tobacco products popular among migrant workers.

Since the seizure from shuttered shop rooms, the police have expanded their surveillance to line buildings with multiple rooms rented out to migrant workers, and that has paid rich dividends. The police seized another half-a-load of banned tobacco products from three such rented houses and have identified more such houses for further inspection.

They plan to arraign in the building owners as co-accused to force them to look beyond mere profit while renting out space. “Previously, tobacco products were openly sold along streets. But that has now stopped since we stepped up action along with the Excise. Now, roving peddlers carry stuff in shoulder bags. A majority of the products are smuggled in by migrant workers while returning from their home States,” said Mr. Raveendran.

The police, however, remain handicapped by the relatively minor punishment that entails the seizure of tobacco products. It is considered a compoundable offence with a maximum fine of ₹10,000.

“We have destroyed tobacco products worth over ₹50 lakh in over a week. Inflicting such a loss, thus making the entire business unfeasible, seems to be the only viable way to deal with it,” Mr. Raveendran added.

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Printable version | Apr 22, 2021 8:30:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/police-expose-narcotic-trade-centred-on-rented-spaces/article33945798.ece

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