In one of its biggest drug busts ever, India’s Directorate of Revenue Intelligence – the country’s highest anti-smuggling intelligence agency – seized almost 300 kilograms of heroin worth Rs 20 billion ($284 million) disguised as talcum powder.
Dealers were smuggling the heroin from Afghanistan, but they were intercepted at a port in the Indian city of Mumbai.
“The consignment had arrived from Afghanistan via Iran, which raised suspicion that it may contain some banned goods,” a DRI official told The Times of India. “During physical examination, we discovered it was narcotics misdeclared as gypsum. A test using an NDPS kit confirmed it was heroin.”
A supplier from Punjab – the northern Indian state with alarming numbers of heroin users – was arrested along with two others in connection with this case.
Heroin is the most trafficked substance in India, and is also the most commonly abused opioid, according to drug enforcement agencies. This week, authorities busted multiple heroin operations in various parts of the country, as India slowly opened its borders after closing them because of COVID-19.
Heroin is usually smuggled into India from Afghanistan or Africa through sea routes in Mumbai and Gujarat, or across borders in Rajasthan and Punjab.
On July 4, police in the northern Indian state of Punjab busted a massive heroin-smuggling unit operating out of a secret farmhouse in a luxury neighbourhood in New Delhi. To conceal their operation, four smugglers from Afghanistan pretended they were patients staying at the house for medical treatment.
Last week, customs officials in Delhi also caught dealers smuggling heroin worth Rs 70 million ($938,130) from Africa, disguised in a shipment of bangles.
Last month, India’s Border Security Force seized more than 56 kilograms of heroin, the highest-ever amount intercepted along the India-Pakistan border in the state of Rajasthan. In April, the Narcotics Control Bureau seized 340 kilograms of heroin from a Sri Lankan shipping boat in the southern Indian city of Kochi.
Over the last year, drug enforcement agencies have cracked down on cannabis, heroin and methamphetamine, the NCB said. This is pushing dealers to take more risks or use creative tactics to smuggle their consignments.
In the Indian state of Haryana, which has one of the highest rates of substance abuse in the country, police have recovered heroin from walnut packages. Specially made fabric bags were dipped in a liquid solution containing heroin, and used to pack the walnuts in. Police have also caught dealers posing as milk suppliers.
“Heroin produced in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and trafficked into India from the Pakistan border, is the main drug that came into India from March to July ,” KP Malhotra, deputy director of the NCB, told VICE. The highest seizures of heroin usually happen in Punjab, and Jammu and Kashmir, which borders Pakistan, he said.
India is located between the Golden Crescent – the oldest route supplying drugs to Europe and North America from Asian countries including Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia – and the Golden Triangle of opium producers like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.
Last year, an NCB probe found that many legal opium cultivators across Rajasthan had diverted some of their supply to manufacture heroin amid a rising demand.
The World Drug Report 2020 found that the “overall opioid use in India is estimated to have increased five-fold in comparison to earlier estimates from a survey carried out in 2004.”