Taking into hands an empty plastic bottle of 250 ml, Sugandh (name changed) makes a hole just enough to insert a straw stuffed with ganja. He lights the outside end of the straw with a matchstick. As smoke emanating from the ganja burning inside the straw fill the bottle, he opens the bottle’s cap, puts it into his mouth and deeply inhales it.
Policemen, in front of whom Sugandh was demonstrating how he uses ganja after being detained in a village from northern Telangana, were taken aback at the ‘innovative’ way of his ganja consumption. “Stuffing ganja in a cigarette and smoking is old fashioned ... there are many new ways we enjoy it these days,” he told the police.
This youngster’s style of taking ganja is just a case in point. The banned narcotic’s clandestine but massive use have left police officials shaken. Five to six years ago, instances of seizure or use of ganja were rare. Now, every other week, startling incidents of the banned substance crop up in one or the other part of the State.
There has been a spurt in ganja seizure cases, especially in the last two years, says a police officer from Asifabad-Kumram Bheem district. Before the first wave of COVID, to be precise, a police patrolling party in Karimnagar city caught a group of teenagers loitering at a local circus ground in the dark. On frisking, the youngsters were found carrying packets of dried ganja leaves.
“It was startling to realise that some of the detained teenagers were school-going children and were frequently taking ganja,” a police officer, unwilling to be named, recalled. Viewing the instance seriously, investigators went further and caught a ganja peddler from Godavarikhani.
What the drug peddler told them was even more astounding. He admitted that the ganja was being supplied by locals from the remote villages around Sirpur (U). When police teams were sent there as decoy parties, they found that ganja was being grown there. They seized several kilos and returned to Karimnagar for prosecution. Officials from the police, prohibition and excise and revenue departments know better what actions they had taken to check this menace, after that case. In fact, ganja use was slowly and silently spreading to other parts of the State simultaneously.
Woman punishes son
The instance of a mother tying her teenaged son to a pole, thrashing him and applying chilli powder on his face as a punishment for getting addicted to ganja, caught news headlines recently. As the video went viral, residents of Gandhinagar in Kodad of Suryapet district felicitated the woman. The local police reportedly told the media that they counselled the woman later, who told them that she was vexed over her 15-year-old son consuming ganja for the last one year.
One may appreciate the woman’s counselling by the police, but the question is what were they doing when the teenager was easily getting ganja for over a year? Did not the local prohibition and excise officials get wind of ganja availability in their area? Suryapet district police records indicate that over 100 kg ganja was seized in their area in the last several months. Apparently, ganja transportation and sale was going on much before their crackdown started.
Who all are responsible for this is another question nobody wants to answer.
“While ganja and liquor addiction is ruining thousands of families across Telangana, some are strangely projecting use of synthetic drugs by a minuscule section of people in Hyderabad as the only issue,” says social activist Sandhya of the Progressive Organisation for Women (POW). No doubt, consumption of banned narcotic drugs, be it natural or synthetic, has dangerous consequences on the society as a whole.
“Unfortunately, use of narcotic drugs is only one side of the coin. Ganja consumption, and liquor addition are debilitating more lives, but there is no holistic approach from the authorities,” she said.
Notwithstanding opinions of civil society and social activists, police top brass believed narcotic drug availability was a serious issue and had cracked the whip on drug peddlers and consumers in the capital region. A couple of years after the international airport started operations in Hyderabad in 2008, incidents of narcotic drug seizure started rising. While seven cases were registered in 2010, 11 more FIRs were issued the next year.
Taking a serious note of this, then Hyderabad Police Commissioner A.K. Khan had set up a special anti-narcotics wing in Central Crime Station. However, the investigators were criticised for not taking these cases to their logical conclusion due to some procedural wrangles. Not many of these cases ended in conviction of the accused.
In 2017, P&E department officials busted a major drug racket in Hyderabad. Till then, it was believed that narcotic drug supply cases were stray instances. Raids and decoy operations conducted by P&E teams under the then director and IPS officer Akun Sabharwal brought to the fore startling facts. Hyderabadis were shocked to know that drug use was rampant even among children going to elite schools and those from affluent families. A noted TV anchor’s ward, son of a top bureaucrat and many children from rich families, were found to have been ‘trapped’ by drug peddlers under different circumstances.
A revelation that four school students ordered LSD blots through dark web and got them delivered at one of their homes shook even law-enforcing agencies. And more shocking was the quizzing of Tollywood personalities by the P&E authorities on the suspicion that many of them were in contact with drug peddlers and used narcotic substances supplied by the latter.
It is not something unknown that some filmstars, directors and technicians are using drugs to get a high. But, the subsequent ‘complete silence’ of P&E officials on the complicity of celebrities proved it was much ado about nothing, and apparently denting the ‘whatever image’ the department has among the public. The cases never reached a stage of prosecution.
In fact, the whole issue took a political colour when Telangana Congress party chief and Malkajgiri MP A. Revanth Reddy filed a PIL petition in the High Court seeking transfer of the case from the P&E department to any Central agency like CBI. He accused the TRS government of attempting to save the accused in drug cases.
Failure of the P&E officials to substantiate the suspicions they had raised over Tollywood personalities was not only an embarrassment to their department but also to the State government. Recently, the HC directed P&E officials to pass on all details of the 2017 drug cases to the Enforcement Directorate by closing the PIL petition. The issue of sincerity and commitment of the government on drugs’ cases became a topic of discussion, with the ED authorities filing a contempt of court plea in the HC maintaining that P&E authorities were not responding even after HC order to furnish information on the cases.
There was lull for some time after the investigation into the 2017 drugs’ cases allegedly involving Tollywood celebrities. But, police in Hyderabad continued their crackdown on drugs. The issue took centre stage again a few days ago, when Hyderabad Task Force sleuths raided a pub at Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel. Cocaine packets were found inside the pub during the pre-dawn swoop, invoking various rumours.
Many of the 148 customers, who were inside the pub, were from influential and affluent families. “Narcotic cases should be dealt with an iron hand but what about the hundreds of youngsters living in slums falling prey to ganja and many adults ruining their families due to liquor addiction,” questions Ms. Sandhya.
“It is not possible for all to spend ₹4,000 to ₹5,000 on a single gram of cocaine. Our challenge is to cut off narcotic drug supply to city which is mainly coming from Mumbai, Bengaluru or sometimes from Delhi,” a police officer associated with the investigation of such cases said.
One conclusion arrived by police is not many Hyderabadis are directly involved in supply of drugs. “The suppliers are adopting a clear cut-off mode to supply drugs. They receive orders only through known customers,” the officer explained. After the order reaches the supplier, the latter would inform the customer that a person wearing a particular color shirt or riding a specific bike would come and hand-over ‘the material’ at a specific place.
“It is observed that in some cases that drug suppliers engaged a woman, who covers face with cloth, to deliver the drugs. The customer would never know who she is,” the officer explains. A flaw in the approach of the police in cracking whip on the drug suppliers was a temporary decision not to pursue the cases vigorously.
This happened a few years ago as the government thought busting too many cases might dent the image of a city clean of drugs. Another step of the P&E officials, to whom the drug cases were handed-over for further probe, not to press charges against drug consumers is also said to have emboldened the consumers.
Eventually, the authorities reviewed their approach and began stern action against the drug users too. This had sent the message loud and clear that ‘using drugs is surely going to land them trouble’. The raid on a bar in Radisson Blue Plaza star hotel is believed to be a clear signal that tough times are ahead for all those involved in drug cartels be from Goa, Mumbai, Bengaluru or Delhi.