Kochi: The policy-induced unavailability of liquor has brought about a spurt in the demand for narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
Excise sources say there has been a 70% increase in the use of narcotic drugs. Narayanan Kutty, excise deputy commissioner, Ernakulam, says, “The generation is always looking for some means of intoxication. If you ban liquor, they go for weed. If you ban that, they will go for drugs. A sudden supply cut on an intoxicant is not going to sanitize the population,” he said.
“The direct link between the state government's liquor policy and the surge in drug demand has not been subjected to a study. We are preparing a report and have sought inputs from ground-level officers and others to plan our strategies,” he said.
According to data with the department, 2015 saw 223 cases of drug abuse/possession in Ernakulam district. It rose to 393 in 2016. But this year, 158 cases have already been registered in the first three months. April too saw a number of arrests.
"Around 200 arrests in just four months is testimony to the presence of some external catalyst. Most of these cases involve ganja or weed and not high-end chemical, psychedelic drugs. There is an economic aspect to it. Raw ganja is the most affordable narcotic for a layman. When liquor worth Rs.250 gives one a high for not more than four hours, the effect of Rs.200 worth ganja can be for six hours. Ganja sales had dropped in the wake of unavailability and strict enforcement. But, when the supply of liquor ceased, people are looking at more 'viable' options,” the officer said.
Unaccounted human inflow
There are more than 40 lakh migrant, north Indian laborers in Kerala. While a major chunk of weed comes from Andhra, Orissa is also catching up. Most of the laborers do not have proper identity documents. So, they remain largely out of the radar of the enforcement agencies. The constant and unaccounted movement of people in this manner makes it difficult for law enforcers to track internal ganja smuggling in India, he said.
There are agencies, which fraudulently create revenue and identity documents for people from Bangladesh. Kingpins of narcotic trade use such 'card-holding' migrant workers to transport ganja for small sums of money. The cash-strapped workers fall for the meagre sums as the compensation, however small, could fend them till they get better employment in Kerala, sources said.
“This is a profitable trade for them. Substances, which cost between Rs.1,000 and Rs.1,500 a kg at the place of origin, fetches them Rs.20,000 to Rs.30,000 in Kerala. Why would they hesitate to smuggle ganja if the profit margin is so high?” Narayanan Kutty says. The department's recent 'Operation Bhai' had seized 100 kg of ganja from labor camps and residences of migrant laborers, he said.
No, not students
The major consumers of narcotic drugs in Kochi are not children, the officer said. The pattern of chemical drugs circulating within Ernakulam shows that they are aimed at high-end customers like corporate employees, techies and the more affluent sections. “Nitrosepam tablets, crack cocaine, and Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (commonly known as ecstasy) are too costly for a layman. Actual cocaine is totally unaffordable at approximately Rs.6 crore per kg. Even a minuscule quantity of the drug would fall in the commercial category limit. We had arrested a youngster last week for possessing four narcotic items, one of which was just 50 gm of ecstasy. He is not a regular consumer but a peddler,” the officer said.
Most rave party organizers have taken to Facebook and WhatsApp. Groups are created and disbanded in no time, leaving no trace or clues for enforcers. The venues are mostly private spaces, like flats or villas. The gatherings never happen at the same venue. We have even tracked parties on boats off the shore, he said.
The gangs even use symbols and motifs to state their affiliations and to enable easy 'spotting' by the fraternity. “Stroked haircuts, tattoos, colored hair, and t-shirts with indicative messages and statements could all be motifs. But it would be absurd to equate all 'freakiness' with drug use,” the officer said.
“Closing the gateways is the effective way out. That is why we focus on peddlers and carriers than individual consumers,” he said. The easy availability of identity documents should be checked. this will prevent a major chunk of drug trafficking. Effective and inclusive awareness campaigns should be taken up," he says.