The Shiromani Akali Dal-led state government in Punjab has been embroiled in controversy since November 2013, when key players in the synthetic-drug trade were arrested by the Punjab police. The arrested persons had alluded to the involvement of the state cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia, the brother-in-law of the Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal, specifically naming him for his role in facilitating connections for the trade. However, even as the allegations against Majithia increased, the investigation of the case lost its momentum by 2015.
In the January 2017 cover story Under A Cloud, Hartosh Singh Bal reports on the political landscape of Punjab ahead of the assembly elections, scheduled to be conducted on 4 February. In the following extract, Bal examines the allegations of Majithia’s involvement in the Rs 6,000 crore drug racket. He accessed the statements of key accused, Jagdish Bhola and Maninder Singh Aulakh, before the Enforcement Directorate. According to these records, Majithia told Aulakh to help Satta, one of the Canada-based players involved in the trade, “for whatever business of drugs (medicines) Satta wants to do.”
In the 2008 Punjabi movie Rustam-e-Hind, Jagdish Bhola was a cast as a wrestler who never compromised the integrity of his sport. He certainly had the build and experience for the role: among other victories, he had won a silver at the 1991 Asian Wrestling Championship. He was rewarded for his achievements with an Arjuna Award and a job with the Punjab Police.
As it turned out, Bhola’s commitment to police work was minimal. In 2002, he was suspended from the force for involvement in the drug trade. Soon after, drugs worth Rs 100 crore were seized from his residence in Mohali, following which he went on the run. On 11 November 2013, he—along with four associates—was finally arrested for his alleged role in a Rs 700-crore synthetic-drug racket. At the time of his arrest, Rs 20 crore’s worth of the drugs “ice,” ephedrine and pseudoephedrine were recovered from him and his associates. Ice is a highly purified form of methamphetamine, which can sell for as much as $1,000 a gram on streets in the West, while ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are precursors used in the manufacture of synthetic drugs.
Bhola told the police that the drugs had been supplied to him by a man named Jagjit Singh Chahal, the owner of two pharmaceutical firms in the town of Baddi in Himachal Pradesh. Chahal was arrested two days later from Amritsar. Based on his interrogation, raids were carried out at his firms. One hundred and ten kilograms of what the Punjab and Haryana High Court later referred to as an “intoxicant powder mixture,” along with 225 kilograms of pseudoephedrine, 75 kilograms of ephedrine and 125 kilograms of ice, were recovered from MBP Pharma, one of Chahal’s companies. A search at Montek Bio Pharma, also owned by him, yielded 165 kilograms of intoxicant powder, 250 grams of methamphetamine, 175 kilograms of pseudoephedrine and 8.5 kilograms of ice. The police claimed that while Chahal had the necessary licences to manufacture and sell legal drugs containing ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, he misused these substances to produce ice.