Taking an empty 250ml plastic bottle in hand, Sugandh (name changed) pokes a hole just enough to insert a straw stuffed with ganja. He lights the outer end of the straw with a match. As the smoke emanating from the ganja burning inside the straw fills the bottle, he opens the cap of the bottle, puts it in his mouth and inhales it deeply.
The police, in front of whom Sugandh demonstrated how he consumes ganja after being detained in a village in North Telangana, were surprised by the “innovative” way of his consumption of ganja. “Making ganja in a cigarette and smoking is old fashioned…there are many new ways to enjoy it these days,” he told police.
This youngster’s ganja-drinking style is just one example. The clandestine but massive use of this prohibited narcotic has shaken police officials. Five or six years ago, cases of ganja being seized or used were rare. Now, every two weeks, startling incidents of the banned substance crop up in some part of the state.
There has been an upsurge in ganja seizures, especially in the past two years, says a police officer from Asifabad-Kumram Bheem district. Before the first wave of COVID, to be precise, a police patrol in the town of Karimnagar caught a group of teenagers strolling in the dark on a local circus ground. While searching, the youths were found carrying bundles of dried ganja leaves.
“It was surprising to realize that some of the detained teenagers were school children and frequently took ganja,” recalled one police officer, who does not want to be named. Taking the matter seriously, investigators went further and nabbed a ganja peddler from Godavarikhani.
What the drug dealer told them was even more amazing. He admitted that the ganja was supplied by people from the remote villages around Sirpur (U). When police teams were sent there as decoys, they discovered that ganja was grown there. They seized several kilograms and returned to Karimnagar to be prosecuted. Police, Prohibition, Excise and Revenue officials know best what steps they have taken to control this menace, after this case. In fact, ganja use was slowly and silently spreading to other parts of the state simultaneously.
A wife punishes her son
The example of a mother tying her teenage son to a pole, hitting him and slathering chili powder on his face as punishment for becoming addicted to ganja has recently made headlines. As the video went viral, residents of Gandhinagar in Kodad district of Suryapet praised the woman. Local police reportedly told the media that they had counseled the woman later, who told them she was upset that her 15-year-old son had been using ganja for a year.
We can appreciate the woman’s advice from the police, but the question is what were they doing when the teenager had been taking ganja easily for over a year? Have local Prohibition and Excise officials not heard of the availability of ganja in their area? Suryapet district police records indicate that over 100kg of ganja have been seized in their area in the past few months. Apparently, the transportation and sale of ganja was going on long before their crackdown began.
Who are all responsible for this is another question that no one wants to answer.
“While ganja and alcohol addiction is ruining thousands of families across Telangana, some are eerily projecting that the use of synthetic drugs by a tiny fraction of Hyderabad’s population is the only problem,” says social activist Sandhya of the Progressive Organization for Women (POW). There is no doubt that the consumption of prohibited narcotics, whether natural or synthetic, has dangerous consequences for society as a whole.
“Unfortunately, the use of narcotics is only one side of the coin. The consumption of ganja and the addition of alcohol weakens more lives, but there is no holistic approach from the authorities,” she said.
Notwithstanding the views of civil society and social activists, senior police officers believed that the availability of narcotics was a serious problem and had cracked down on drug traffickers and consumers in the capital region. A few years after the start of operations at the international airport in Hyderabad in 2008, narcotics seizures began to increase. While seven cases were recorded in 2010, another 11 FIRs were issued the following year.
Taking serious note of this, Hyderabad Police Commissioner AK Khan had set up a special anti-narcotics wing at the Central Crime Station. However, investigators have been criticized for not taking these cases to their logical conclusion due to some procedural wrangling. Few of these cases resulted in a conviction of the accused.
In 2017, P&E department officials shut down a major drug trade in Hyderabad. Until then, it was believed that narcotics supply cases were wandering cases. The raids and decoy operations carried out by the P&E teams under the direction of the then director and IPS officer, Akun Sabharwal, brought to light startling facts. Hyderabadis were shocked to know that drug use was rampant even among children attending elite schools and those from wealthy families. The neighborhood of a famous TV presenter, the son of a high official and many children from wealthy families, turned out to have been “trapped” by drug traffickers under different circumstances.
A revelation that four students ordered LSD transfers via the dark web and had them delivered to one of their homes has even rocked law enforcement. And more shocking was the questioning of Tollywood figures by P&E authorities on the suspicion that many of them were in contact with drug dealers and used narcotic substances supplied by them.
It’s not unheard of that some movie stars, directors, and techies use drugs to get high. But, the “complete silence” by P&E officials on the celebrity complicity proved it to be much ado about nothing, and apparently undermined “the image the department has among the public”. The cases never reached the prosecution stage.
In fact, the whole issue took on a political color when the leader of the Telangana Congress party and MP Malkajgiri A. Revanth Reddy filed a PIL petition in the High Court seeking the transfer of the case from the P&E department to any which central agency as CBI. He accused the TRS government of trying to save defendants in drug cases.
The failure of P&E officials to substantiate the suspicions they had raised about Tollywood figures was not only an embarrassment to their department but also to the state government. Recently, the HC ordered P&E officials to forward full details of the 2017 drug cases to the Enforcement Branch by closing the PIL petition. The issue of government sincerity and commitment to drug cases has become a topic of discussion, with ED authorities filing a contempt of court plea with the HC, claiming P&E authorities are unresponsive even after the HC’s order to provide case information.
There was a lull for a while following the investigation into 2017 drug deals allegedly involving Tollywood celebrities. But Hyderabad police continued their drug crackdown. The issue came to the fore again a few days ago when detectives from the Hyderabad task force raided a pub in the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel. Packets of cocaine were found inside the pub during the pre-dawn raid, citing various rumours.
Many of the 148 patrons inside the pub were from influential and well-to-do families. “Narcotics cases must be handled with an iron fist, but what about the hundreds of young people living in slums who fall prey to ganja and many adults who are ruining their families through drug addiction. alcohol,” asks Ms. Sandhya.
“It is not possible for all to spend ₹4,000-5,000 on a single gram of cocaine. Our challenge is to cut off the supply of narcotics to the city which mainly comes from Mumbai, Bengaluru or sometimes Delhi,” said a police officer associated with the investigation of such cases.
One of the police findings is that few Hyderabadis are directly involved in drug supply. “Suppliers are adopting a clear cut-off mode to supply medicines. They only receive orders through known customers,” the officer explained. Once the order reached the supplier, the latter would inform the customer that a person wearing a particular color shirt or riding a specific bicycle would come and deliver “the material” at a specific location.
“It is observed that in some cases, the drug suppliers have hired a woman, who covers her face with a cloth, to deliver the drugs. The client will never know who she is,” explains the agent. A flaw in the police’s approach in cracking the whip on drug dealers was a temporary decision not to pursue cases vigorously.
It happened a few years ago, when the government thought that eliminating too many cases could damage the image of a drug-free city. Another step by P&E officials, who were handed over the drug cases for further investigation, not to press charges against drug users would have also emboldened consumers.
Eventually, the authorities revised their approach and launched tough action against drug addicts as well. It had sent the message loud and clear that “the use of drugs is sure to get them in trouble”. The raid on a bar at the star-studded Radisson Blue Plaza hotel is seen as a clear signal that hard times are ahead for all involved in drug cartels, whether from Goa, Mumbai, Bengaluru or Delhi.