How Assam has emerged as a transit point for narcotics

02 August 2016
Assam police personnel destroy cannabis
BIJU BORO/AFP/Getty Images)
Assam police personnel destroy cannabis
BIJU BORO/AFP/Getty Images)

On 16 March this year, police in Assam arrested Elahi Sheikh in Dibrugarh. Considered one of the biggest drug barons in the Northeast, Sheikh had been in hiding since jumping bail several years ago. The police also found heroin at his residence which was speculated to be sent to Arunachal Pradesh. Sheikh had amassed a huge fortune over the years by selling drugs through a network that consisted primarily of women and children.

Sheikh’s case is indicative of the colossal quantity of narcotics that flows through Assam in both directions—to the mainland and across the border to Myanmar and Bangladesh. Following the druglord’s arrest, police swung into action and arrested over 50 small dealers in the state over the next couple of months, especially from Guwahati and Dibrugarh. The seizures made from their residences, hideouts and subsequent interrogation by police revealed that a wide range of drugs—from cocaine to cannabis—find their way to Assam.

Mukush Sahay, the director general of police for the state told me that “Assam has emerged as a transit point for drugs going to different and distant places. We have identified the kingpins and we are in touch with our counterparts in some other states.” The situation prompted the state government to constitute a task force on May 11 under the additional chief secretary of the home department TY Das to assess the extent of the problem and the rehabilitation of addicts. The Narcotics Control Bureau, an agency under the ministry of home affairs which has also been involved in operations, has conducted raids at Gaya in Bihar and Rae Bareily in Uttar Pradesh following leads from arrested peddlers on the drug trail.

The Police investigation has revealed that synthetic drugs such as methamphetamines travel a vast distance from Maharashtra, Punjab and Haryana, and are peddled by gangs that have their network across the country. These are consumed in Assam and the neighbouring states. Consignments are also sent to Bangladesh. This is quite similar to the situation in Manipur and Mizoram, where a similar variety of synthetic drugs called Yaba is imported from Myanmar. However, laboratories in Myanmar producing synthetic drugs and heroin have also fuelled a huge demand for precursor chemicals such as pseudoephedrine (used in the manufacture of several drugs), which are transported to Assam from north Indian states.

The information disclosed by peddlers revealed that an injectible form of heroin referred to as “Number 4” is smuggled into the Northeast from places as far as Shan State, which bordersChina, and has emerged as one of the leading production centres of drugs in the world. Number 4 is gathered and sorted at select towns in the Northeast such as Champhai, Moreh and Dimapur, and dispatched to Guwahati in small quantities in trucks and buses. The presence of the drug is an open secret in several localities in the city,such as Manipuri Basti. A series of raids were conducted and in a surprising discovery, a large quantity of brown sugar believed by the police to have been manufactured in Bihar, was seized. “It seemed that Ilahi was one of the bigger fishes in the illicit trade but there are numerous peddlers who function independently with direct links to the production centres,” a police official told me while requesting anonymity.

Rajeev Bhattacharya is a senior journalist in Guwahati and author of Rendezvous With Rebels: Journey to Meet India's Most Wanted Men.

Keywords: Assam drug trade drug trafficking