On 8 November, the Jammu and Kashmir governor NN Vohra took over as the president of the Tribune Trust, which manages The Tribune, in the wake of a controversy following the daily’s front-page apology to the former Punjab cabinet minister Bikram Singh Majithia. On 29 October, the daily had published “an unconditional apology” to Majithia for reports from November 2014 and March 2015 “with prominent headlines” that suggested his “involvement … with an illegal drug syndicate.” The Print reported that the daily’s editor-in-chief, Harish Khare, has “offered his resignation in protest after the apology was forced upon him from the top.”
In November 2013, key players in Punjab’s synthetic-drug trade were arrested, and subsequently alluded to the involvement of Majithia—the brother-in-law of the former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal—specifically naming him for his role in facilitating connections for the trade. In The Caravan’s January 2017 cover story, “Under A Cloud,” Hartosh Singh Bal reported on the political landscape of Punjab. In the following extract from the story, Bal examines the allegations of Majithia’s involvement in the drug racket.
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.