Ganja Destined For Sri Lanka
By Camelia Nathaniel
Last year 126 Sri Lankans and 11 Indian nationals were arrested by the Sri Lanka Navy for smuggling of drugs into the country. So far this year, 49 Sri Lankans have been arrested for smuggling of drugs by the Navy. 190.025 Kg of Kerala Cannabis, 14.786 Kg of Local Cannabis, 480 mg of Heroine, 1225 No’s of Modaka and 30 No’s of Anodyne Tablets have also been seized by the Naval personnel.
Earlier in the year, 1300 kg of Ganja, worth over INR 20 million (US$ 311,766), was intercepted at Chintapalle in Vishakapatnam district of Andhra Pradesh State, north of Chennai. On June 6, 130 kg of Ganja meant for Sri Lanka was seized at Rameswaram.
According to a report by Jeeva Niriella of the Colombo University’s Law Faculty, in his 2012 paper entitled “Effective Measures in Eliminating Illicit Drug Using and Trafficking: Sri Lankan Experience” Sri Lanka gets narcotics mainly from India and Pakistan. With about 750 kg of heroin available annually at street level, there could be about 45,000 heroin addicts in the island he says. Ganja addicts will, of course, be much larger in numbers.
However, according to the Sri Lankan Police Narcotics Bureau, Sri Lanka is essentially a transit point for drugs coming from the West Asian ‘Golden Crescent’ and the East Asian ‘Golden Triangle’ set of drug producing and distributing countries. But points out that the use of drugs in the island is not of epidemic proportions.
Situation in India
According to The Hindu, the border between the Eastern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh and Odisha is the nerve center of illicit Ganja production and trade in India. 80 percent of the Ganja cultivated in India comes from this region. The tribals who inhabit this area, had been cultivating Ganja from time immemorial. And they continue to do so because of the encouragement they now receive from smugglers, drug dealers and communist revolutionaries (called Maoists). While the smugglers and the Maoists mint money, the poor tribal Ganja cultivator is disposed off with some petty cash. This, of course, is a lot for him, being a subsistence farmer eking out a meagre income from poor quality land.
But smuggling is not without its perils. The Indian police have stepped up their vigil and have made significant seizures in recent years. In 2012-13, for instance, 51 cases were registered and 99 persons were arrested, after 4.7 metric tonnes of Ganja was seized in the Andhra Pradesh-Odisha border. Between April and October 2014, 10.5 mt had been seized and 117 persons arrested.
The Ganja collected in South India finds its way to all countries including Sri Lanka. And despite improved vigilance, better methods of detection and stringent laws, the global market is expanding exponentially, and the trade is booming. A survey conducted in March 2015 in the US found that 49 percent of Americans had tried out Marijuana; 12 percent had used it in the past year; and 7.3 percent had done so in the past month.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader the head of Naval Intelligence in Sri Lanka Captain Prasanna Hewage said that many measures have been taken by the Sri Lankan authorities and the Sri Lankan Navy to combat drug trafficking. Among the measures taken by the Navy are the establishment of a Coastal Protection Squadron, re-deployment of Coastguards, deploying of additional sea units (Ships & Crafts), installation of surveillance radars along the coastal belt, deploying of foot patrols along the coastal belt, carrying out awareness programs, gathering of information and carrying out surveillance by Naval Intelligence units and carrying out search operations in liaise with other agencies. (CID, SIS, Police).
According to the Navy on March 25, 42.5 Kg of Kerala Cannabis was seized from the Mathagal area in Manippai, 92.05 Kg of Kerala Cannabis was seized from Northwest Off Delft Island on April nine and two persons were taken into custody, and another person was arrested on April one from the Hendala, Wattala area with 825 No’s of Modaka in his possession by the Naval personnel.
However while Sri Lanka and India is trying to arrest the issue of Cannabis, there is also belief that Cannabis and Marijuana contain medicinal properties that is used in herbal therapy.
Legalization of marijuana
One of the reasons for the increase in the use of Marijuana in the West is that it is part of herbal therapy which is recommended in 23 US States, Canada, Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain. In fact, there is a movement in the US for legalising marijuana.
In India also, there is a lobby pressing for the legalisation of Marijuana. A recent article in Time of India says that consumption of Marijuana, Hashish, Ganja and Charas (which are all basically the same) is culturally rooted. In North India, Ganja is used as part of traditional festivities. Such substances are also part and parcel of Ayurvedic medicinal preparations. It has never been considered addictive. The hemp is still cultivated under license in several parts of India.
The 1961 world-wide “Single Convention of Narcotic Drugs” dealt a big blow to Ganja cultivation and consumption of India because it bracketed Ganja with hard drugs and imposed a blanket ban except for medicinal and research purposes.
However, because of the cultural importance of Ganja in India, India was given 25 years to ban it. But the Government of India buckled under American pressure and enacted the National Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS Act) in 1985.
It was a poor law that clubbed Marijuana, Hashish, and Bhang with hard drugs like Smack, Heroin, Cocaine and Crack, and banned them all. What happened as a result of this law was that almost overnight, the entire trade shifted from peddling Grass or Charas to Smack or worse. The reason: while the risk was the same, profits from the hard-killer drugs were ten times higher. Suddenly, there was a drug problem in India. In cities like Delhi, Smack addiction grew. Those who had earlier smoked Grass began to chase Smack, the Time of India noted. As part of this development, heroin entered India in the 1980s.
Drug smuggling and terrorism
The 1980s saw a surge in the consumption of all kind of drugs in India. India also became a major producer of drugs and a transit point in world smuggling, says Dr.Pushpita Das, in a paper on drugs and Indian national security published in 2012 under the aegis of the New Delhi-based Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis (IDSA).
The upsurge in terrorist movements in Kashmir and Punjab in the 1980s gave a fillip to cross border illicit drug trade because the militants were financing their activities through the drug trade. According to Das, 15 percent of the finances of the Kashmiri terrorists came from the drug trade in which they were involved. Another group which depended heavily on the drug trade was the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah). But the most high profile drug dealer/terrorist in India was and still is, Dawood Ibrahim. A former resident of Mumbai, now resident in Pakistan, Dawood became a terrorist masterminding the deadly serial bombings in Mumbai in 1993.
With Pakistan fomenting terrorism in Punjab and Kashmir, the India-Pakistan border became a drugs smugglers’ paradise. Hashish and Heroin, coming from the Golden Triangle in South West Asia, made their entry into India via Pakistan. Punjab became a major consumer of drugs. In the six years between 1983 and 1989, heroin seizures rose from 100 kg to 3029 kg and Hashish seizure in 1986 was 18,909 kg.
The vigil on the India-Pakistan border in the 1990s and 2000, had forced smugglers to give up the land route and take to the sea route. Since then they have been landing in Kutch on the Gujarat coast and in the Western Indian coast near Mumbai. Nigerian and Kenyan syndicates work in concert with the Dawood Ibrahim group known as the D-Company in drug smuggling to and from India.
Das notes that the improvement of communications between India and Pakistan, and India and Nepal, increased drug smuggling across borders. The two recent friendship railway links, the Thar Express between Sindh in Pakistan and Rajasthan in India, and the Samjhauta Express from Lahore in Pakistan and Amritsar in India, are being used by drug smugglers also. Increasing legal trade between South Asian countries is also helping drug smugglers as they now land their stuff as part of legitimate cargo or disguised as legitimate cargo.
Drugs smugglers buy and sell as per the requirements of individual markets. For example, there is a heavy demand for Nepalese Ganja in India and a heavy demand for Codeine-based pharmaceuticals in Nepal. So the smuggler brings Ganja from India and takes back Codeine-based medicines from India. Myanmar supplies Heroin to India and in turn gets drugs which are chemical formulations. They exploit India’s large pharmaceutical sector which is well positioned to supply intoxicant drugs. Given the demand for Hashish in the US, Europe and Canada, the Hashish smuggled into India is smuggled out to these European and North Countries
However, in the 1990s, drug seizures came down significantly in India, right across the drug spectrum. Pushpita Das attributes this to the increased vigil on the India-Pakistan border thanks to the military stand off between India and Pakistan in the 1990s and the 2000s and especially after the terrorist attack on the Indian parliament in 2001. The decline in Hashish smuggling is seen in the fall in seizures. While in 1990, 6,388 kg was seized, in 2009, the seizures totalled only 3,549 kg.
However, this could only be a tip of the iceberg, as Das herself says there is too much corruption in the border security agencies, the police and the customs. Drug smugglers, rolling in wealth and contacts, manage to buy their way through. Perhaps this is the reason why the US considers India a transit point in the illicit world trade in drugs