Darknet forums, young targets and customers who turn peddlers part of complex web of drugs trade

Officials have said that barring a few months during the strictest Covid-19 restrictions, there has been a sizable number of narcotics cases, signifying that the contraband drugs trade has not lost its pace.

Pune Police, Pimpri-Chinchwad Police and the Pune unit of the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) have seized narcotic drugs worth Rs 28.6 crore since January 2020 till date, which includes contraband drugs ranging from marijuana, opioids and cocaine to synthetic ones like Mephedrone, Ecstasy and LSD.

Investigation into a total of 177 cases, in which these seizures have been made from 262 accused, has revealed a disturbing trend of younger population being the target of drug smugglers. Probe in some cases has also revealed how some youth had resorted to peddling the drugs themselves to fund their addiction, officials have said. Some cases have pointed to use of the darknet platform by smugglers to conduct their business.

Both Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad Police have dedicated teams working under the Crime Branch, functioning as the Anti-Narcotics Cell (ANC). The DRI is a key central agency involved in intelligence, investigations and operations towards anti-smuggling efforts. Officials have said that barring a few months during the strictest Covid-19 restrictions, there has been a sizable number of narcotics cases, signifying that the contraband drugs trade has not lost its pace.

One of the biggest one-time seizures of drugs was made by the Pimpri-Chinchwad Police in a coordinated operation led by Police Commissioner Krishna Prakash, conducted at multiple places by a special investigation team. In the drugs bust on October 7 last year, Pimpri-Chinchwad Police had seized a 20-kg consignment of contraband substance Mephedrone, also known as Meow Meow, worth Rs 20 crore in the international market.

The subsequent probe had unearthed a big narcotic production and distribution ring, and it came to light that Mephedrone worth over Rs 130 crore was manufactured at a biotech company premises in Ranjangaon. The nine arrested racketeers included a criminal linked to the Chhota Rajan gang and a Nigerian national who handled the distribution part of the ring.

In another major action against marijuana smuggling in July this year, officials of Pune unit of the DRI seized 1,878 kg of marijuana, estimated to cost Rs 3.75 crore. This was arguably the biggest one-time seizure of marijuana in Pune by any agency, and six persons were arrested in the raids conducted at Pune-Solapur highway.

Pune City Police, meanwhile, have seized drugs worth Rs 2.98 crore since January 2020, including several types of contraband narcotics such as cocaine, mephedrone, opium and opioid products heroin, brown sugar and poppy husk, marijuana, hashish and hash oil, LSD and Ecstasy or MDMA, among others.

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Deputy Commissioner of Police (Crime) with Pune City Police, Shrinivas Ghadge, said, “Our probe in multiple cases of drug seizures have revealed that the peddlers mainly target college-going youth and younger population for the sale of drugs. It is a disturbing trend. Along with taking action against smugglers and peddlers, our teams also join hands with prominent de-addiction facilities and conduct awareness programmes for youth of different age groups.”

An ANC official said, “In multiple cases, we have observed that youth purchase a certain quantity of a drug, set aside some of it for their own consumption and further peddle the remaining quantity at a higher price — many times among their own circle. While the suspects in such cases are young as well as middle-aged, their customers have predominantly been younger, our probe shows.”

“Our investigation has pointed to specific routes by which smugglers bring different types of narcotics into the city. They work in a highly secretive manner, keep changing their locations, cell numbers and modus operandi. Some use darknet tools for conducting their businesses, which makes keeping track of them a major challenge,” added the official.

“While some countries in the world are debating legalising marijuana, India has been observing the serious social impact of its overuse and it is proving to be a gateway drug towards use of other extremely harmful substances. Its users have been found across economic classes and its use is a serious issue among college students and youth,” said a senior officer.

Another senior officer said, “During the months of strict pandemic restrictions, the number of cases decreased due to reduced movement and economic activity. But once the restrictions were lifted, we saw a rise in cases. Even during the months of lockdown, we were getting inputs and we did take action based on them.”


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