Tamil Nadu-Sri Lanka drug nexus: Something fishy about these fishermen
The legendary movie Scarface opens with a scene where 1,000s of refugees from Cuba land into the United States. Antonio Montana played by the greatest actor of our times, Al Pacino is one among them. What follows is chaos and dark, dirty world of drugs.
Flashback, 2006. There were 18,600 Tamil refugees who arrived at Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu. All were sent to special camps on the suspicion that they had links with the LTTE. Further, the probe revealed that many were drug co, Many refugees had become couriers and in the name of medicines and aid came the drugs.
The modus operandi was busted and with the fall of the LTTE there was a lull. Today not a single day passes by when an incident of drug smuggling is not reported. There is a sudden spike in the smuggling of ephedrine and in the first half of 2017 86 kilograms of ephedrine was seized. Further, there is an increase by 26 per cent in amphetamine seizures coupled with 115 kilograms of the heroin being picked up by the enforcement agencies.
The list is endless. The cartels bring in LSD, cocaine, cannabis, pseudoephedrine and Ketamine too in large quantities.
The top route:
Tamil Nadu has always been a transit point for smuggling. The end of the civil war in Sri Lanka, the smuggling of drugs has increased. There is a great demand for heroin in Sri Lanka and smuggling has become easier thanks to the porous borders. Further, the proximity between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka has made it a smugglers paradise.
While at first, the couriers were the refugees, today it is the fishermen. Recently the Sri Lankan naval fleet apprehended six Indian fishermen and also seized a fishing boat on the charge that they were attempting to smuggle 13.5 kilograms of heroin. The men from the Nagapattinam area were nabbed and it was found that three of them did not even have proper identity cards. Sri Lanka has claimed that they have been regularly nabbing drug traffickers approaching the north waters posing as fishermen.
The international cartel:
The international cartel which is using Sri Lanka as a transhipment destination relies heavily on the fishermen. The heroin trade between India and Sri Lanka was established over a century back. While it continued, the LTTE too sources heroin from India and smuggled it into Sri Lanka where the domestic consumption is very high. The LTTE would use the funds for its activities.
After the LTTE fell, the model is now being replicated by the international drug cartel. It was found that the cartel bribes the fishermen to smuggle the drugs. An officer with the Narcotics Control Bureau told OneIndia that fishermen are today the favourite couriers of drugs for the cartel.
The NCB official said that two-thirds of the heroin is being produced in Afghanistan. It is then brought into Pakistan following which the contraband is dropped off at Punjab. From there it is loaded into inter-state trucks and then supplied to the rest of the country. Most of the grade 3 heroine referred to as brown sugar lands in Ramnathpuram which is the closest sea link to Sri Lanka. It is then divided into smaller and larger quantities. While the larger quantity is taken to Sri Lanka through the sea route from Rameswaram, the smaller lot is packed off through the Chennai airport.
Hard to track:
Monitoring all the boats is no easy task. There are 100s of boats that venture out from Rameswaram and to check each one of them is no easy job. Most of the contraband is handed over to agents mid-sea by the fishermen. The problem is immense and even the Sri Lankan navy has managed to apprehend the fishermen only when there is very concrete information. This ideally means a large part of the contraband manages to reach its destination.
Over the recent months, it has also been found that there is a very high demand for cannabis from Kerala. The cartels use a similar route to reach Sri Lanka. Statistics would show that 2,500 kilograms of cannabis and 180 kilograms of heroin have been seized in recent times.