Centre sets up multi-agency group to check drug smuggling via sea routes

Officials of agencies like Intelligence Bureau, Narcotics Control Bureau and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence to be roped in amid steep rise in the smuggling of drugs in the guise of legitimate cargo

January 26, 2023 08:15 pm | Updated January 27, 2023 10:16 am IST - NEW DELHI

Photo for representation purpose.

Photo for representation purpose.

The Central government has set up a committee comprising senior representatives of multiple probe agencies to review the checking mechanisms at all ports and plug the loopholes to prevent smuggling of drugs into the country primarily via maritime routes.

It is learnt that officials of the agencies like the Intelligence Bureau (IB), Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI), Navy and Indian Coast Guard have been roped in. Some agencies have already submitted their observations and recommendations.

“There has been a steep rise in the smuggling of drugs through sea routes in the past few years, particularly in the guise of legitimate cargo. Therefore, close coordination between the related agencies is mandatory at every level. Also, it is important to strengthen the intelligence-sharing mechanism with the counterparts of the countries from where such consignments originate or when their ports are used as transit points,” said a senior official.

As found in the case involving seizure of 3,000-kg heroin at Gujarat’s Mundra port in September 2021 by the DRI, and several other cases in the recent past, private companies with import licences are being used by criminal syndicates to get the contraband smuggled in.

“This has necessitated keeping a close watch on all the entities having import licences,” said the official.

One of the suggestions by the NCB is the installation of heavy duty scanners at the ports for zeroing in on the consignments suspected to be carrying drugs.

According to an official, scanners technically cannot detect drugs. However, a combination of hi-tech scanners and trained spotters can help identify the consignments containing contraband. “Huge inbound cargo traffic at large ports pose another major challenge, which will have to be addressed,” he said.

Following the arrest of 16 alleged members of an international drug trafficking syndicate recently, the NCB has gathered fresh evidence showing a nexus between Pakistan-based operators, drug manufacturers in Afghanistan, traffickers, gangsters and white-collar criminals.

In this case also, the NCB found that a consignment had been brought in through the Mundra port. Further investigations into the network is being carried out in coordination with the IB and other agencies.

A similar incident was reported in July 2022 when the DRI had seized about 300 kg of heroin -- smuggled in the garb of a talcum powder consignment -- at Nhava Sheva Port in Navi Mumbai. At the same port, it had impounded 191 kg of heroin in August 2020.

In April 2021, the DRI had seized another consignment of drugs weighing 303 kg, suspected to be cocaine of Latin American origin, at V.O.C. Port in Tamil Nadu’s Tuticorin.

In joint operations with other agencies, the Indian Coast Guard has also been making mid-sea seizures. Last month, it intercepted a Pakistani boat carrying arms, ammunition and 40 kg of drugs off the Gujarat coast. In October 2022, in cooperation with the Gujarat’s Anti-Terrorist Squad, 50 kg of heroin was seized.

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