Drugs Keep Washing up on Indian Shores

On Friday, June 19, fishermen in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu spotted a floating drum off the coast of Mamallapuram.

They alerted police, who found 78 kilograms of crystal meth inside when the drum was brought onshore.

The shipment of methamphetamine in its crystallised form was concealed under Chinese tea brand labels, presumably to be passed off as a consignment of tea.

According to authorities from the Narcotics Intelligence Bureau Crime Investigation Department (NIB-CID), one kilogram of crystal meth can go for over INR 30 million ($394,500) in the international drug market.

What’s fishy about this incident is that it wasn’t isolated: drugs keep washing up on Indian shores, leaving law enforcement wondering where they come from.

Another similar incident occurred two days later on June 21 in Kutch district of the Western state of Gujarat. A few bundles of hash – a form of marijuana made from the resins of the cannabis plant often called charas in India – washed up on the Jakhau shores on the Kutch coast, and were intercepted by patrolling officers. Police counted 183 packets of the drug, but have not yet managed to trace its source. Experts say these packets have an estimated value of INR 20 million (about $262,995) in the Indian market.

Exactly a month ago, on May 20, marine patrollers found a similar shipment of hash abandoned on the Shekhran Peer island on the Kutch coast, a move that was seen by police as possible infiltration from Pakistan.

Gujarat is frequently used as a sea smuggling route to peddle drugs – from Pakistan and Afghanistan – to North Indian states like Punjab where there is a high demand for them. This is often done by covering up the illegal substances with innovations that include concealing heroin as cumin seeds. Underground channels like riverines, pipes and tunnels are often used to bypass barriers.

Three weeks ago, Tamil Nadu’s Ramanathapuram police seized 11.4 kilograms of drugs including meth, ecstasy, heroin and opium that was being smuggled into Sri Lanka.

A paper published by India’s Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, a think tank for border security and international relations, stressed that India’s geographical location makes it particularly vulnerable to drug smuggling since the country is flanked by the Golden Crescent and the Golden Triangle.

The Golden Crescent and Golden Triangle are names given to two of the largest opium-producing regions of the world: the former is the grouping of opium-rich nations like Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, while the Golden Triangle is the area between the intersection of the borders of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.

A 2018 annual report by the United Nations-backed International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) also states that India is a hub for the illicit trade of drugs, with cannabis being the highest-seized substance in South Asia.

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, border security forces in some drug smuggling corridors of India have reported a fall in the supply of drugs, which has consequently driven up their demand and prices.

According to India’s Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS), trafficking drugs in commercial quantities is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a fine of more than INR 200,000 (about $2,639), with a repeated offence even attracting a death penalty.

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