By Jaideep Sarin
Chandigarh, Jan 2 (IANS) Narcotic smuggling appears to have touched dizzying levels across the India-Pakistan frontier with the Border Security Force having recorded its highest seizure of drugs in recent years, netting over 322 kg of heroin in 2013 that would be worth over Rs 1,610 crore ($258 million) in the international market.
Men of the BSF maintain high alert in sub-zero temperatures and a thick blanket of fog along the barbed-wire fenced 553-km international border between the two countries in Punjab. This is the highest seizure of heroin made by the BSF on the Punjab frontier with Pakistan. The previous high was over 288 kg of heroin seized in 2012.
Compared to the seizure of just 68 kg of heroin in 2011, BSF officers now acknowledge that smugglers from Pakistan and India have become more active in the last two years. In 2008, the BSF seized over 100 kg of heroin, in 2009 about 120 kg and in 2010 about 115 kg.
“The bigger seizures by the BSF are owing to stricter measures along the international border,” BSF’s Punjab frontier Inspector General Ajay Kumar Tomar said in Jalandhar. Besides heroin, the BSF also recovered over 246 kg of poppy husk in Punjab’s border belt. This seizure was phenomenally high when compared to just 5.5 kg recovered in 2012.
BSF troopers killed five Pakistani and three Indian smugglers in exchange of fire near the international border in 2013. The BSF also recovered fake Indian currency notes (FICN) worth Rs 52 lakh along the border.
BSF troopers, who man the border belt, say that they have to deal with weather extremes and inhospitable terrain to contain smuggling.
“Our men are currently manning the border in sub-zero temperatures and a thick blanket of fog. Even technology cannot help in these conditions. They have to rely on their personal instincts to monitor any movement along the border. It is a tough job on their hands,” an operational ground commander of the BSF told IANS in the Amritsar sector.
The drugs trade is thriving in Punjab and various agencies of the Punjab and central government have made seizures of drugs worth over Rs 5,000 crore in the recent past.
The Punjab Police alone busted an international gang of synthetic drugs smugglers. The seizures of synthetic drugs, made across Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and other states are nearly Rs 2,500 crore.
A former international wrestler, Jagdish Singh Bhola, who was dismissed from the Punjab Police nearly a decade back for his involvement in the drugs trade, was arrested along with over 35 other people involved in the well-established drugs trade.
“The success against the international gang of drugs smugglers has been achieved due to a concerted drive against drug trafficking, particularly high-grade drugs like heroin, emphedrine, methamphetamine (ice),” Punjab’s Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Dinkar Gupta told IANS.
While Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has gone on record as saying that the central government and its agencies were responsible for controlling smuggling of drugs from Pakistan, the BSF holds that higher seizures clearly indicate stricter vigil along the border.
“The increased seizures by the BSF are due to the element of surprise in patrolling introduced by it. We have made our patrolling unpredictable for the smugglers,” BSF Deputy Inspector General M.F. Farooqui said.
The international border in Punjab is manned by nearly 135 BSF battalions 24×7. The drug network operates along the Afghanistan-Pakistan-India route.
BSF officers point out that smugglers from Pakistan use plastic pipes to push heroin packets across the electrified fence or just throw the wrapped packets across, which their Indian counterparts later pick up. The connivance of Pakistani border guards, the Pakistan Rangers, with the smugglers cannot be ruled out.
The BSF, at its recent meeting with the Pakistan Rangers, took up the issue of cross-border smuggling, especially from the Pakistani side.
In February 2012, officials of the customs department burnt 445 kg of heroin seized in recent years. The heroin was worth Rs 2,225 crore at that time. In 2012, customs officials seized over 135 kg of heroin smuggled in cement bags being imported from Pakistan through the India-Pakistan goods train in just four months (July-Oct), leading to suspension of cement trade between the two countries for some time.