A bulk of the hashish that reaches Kerala from marijuana-growing regions in Andhra Pradesh ends up in the Maldives, according to State Excise Enforcement Squad (SEES) officials.
They said the dubious role of a cargo agency that exported provisions and perishables to the Maldives from Vizhinjam port had first come to light following the seizure of 11 kg of hashish from the son of a prominent restaurateur in Thiruvananthapuram in 2018.
The accused had used his restaurant chain as a front to transact the drug trade with certain businesspeople in the Maldives who used their vegetable import business as a cover for illegally importing hashish to the country from mainland India.
However, the suspect cargo agency smelled a rat and closed shop when SEES put it under surveillance.
Investigators said the 21 kg of hashish seized from an Idukki resident in Palakkad early Wednesday was possibly meant for export to the Maldives and hitherto unknown players might be facilitating the racket currently.
They said they had alerted port and airport authorities to the likelihood that drug smugglers could send hashish to the Maldives concealed in vegetable consignments and also Vanaspati packets as air or sea cargo.
Enforcers said hashish was smuggled to the Maldives often concealed as sheets in false cavities inside cardboard packing. Cultivators and smugglers used hawala routes to keep their books balanced.
A bulk of the hashish seized in Kerala since January were sourced from backyard processing plants in tribal villages bordering the marijuana-growing region in Paderu in Andhra Pradesh.
Hashish is smuggled into Kerala from Andhra Pradesh concealed in hidden cavities in door panels of vehicles, near the fuel tank or inside spare tyres and also the engine compartment.
In July alone, the SEES made record haul of 45 kg of hashish. They said the detected hashish consignments were just the tip of the iceberg. The shadowy hashish cartel leaders raked in outsize profits given that the drug, which cost less than a lakh for a kg in Andhra Pradesh, accrued in value manifold when peddled on the street.
Excise Commissioner S. Aananthakrishnan is heading the anti-narcotic drive.