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20 held as Punjab Police bust drug cartel spanning 50 districts in 11 states

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In one of the biggest crackdowns on supply of pharmaceutical opioids across the country, the Punjab Police has busted an inter-state drug cartel operating in more than 50 districts of the country spread across 11 states, using the hawala channel route. Twenty persons have already been arrested with a huge cache of drugs, drug proceeds-money and five vehicles, in an operation that spanned over 8 weeks.

Disclosing the details of the case and the investigations, Punjab DGP, Dinkar Gupta, said the drug cartel, known as the `Agra Gang’, was pushing pharmaceutical opioids (drugs) into the markets all across India by diverting drugs in huge quantities from the drug manufacturers, suppliers, wholesalers and retail chemists spread out across the country. Of the 20 people arrested so far, 16 are from Punjab, 2 from UP and one each from Haryana and Delhi.

With the arrest of these gang members, a well-oiled network of drug syndicate pushing consignments to the tune of 10-12 crores of intoxicating pharmaceutical opioids in the form of tablets/capsules/injections/syrups per month into Punjab and other parts of the country has been totally smashed thousands of youth who were or could have got hooked to these drugs have been saved from drug abuse and addiction.

The gang was busted by a Barnala Police team, comprising of Dr. Pragya Jain, IPS, ASP Mehal Kalan, Sukhdev Virk SP(D), Ramninder Deol DSP (D), Insp Baljit Singh Incharge CIA, working under the supervision of SSP Barnala Sandeep Goel. The arrests of the 20 men, including one of the cartel’s kingpins, were made from various locations in Punjab, Haryana, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. As many as 27,62,137 intoxicating tablets, capsules, injections and syrup bottles were seized from them, along with drug proceeds money of Rs 70,03,800, said Gupta. Interestingly, the Barnala Police had, in March 2020, similarly busted a `Mathura Gang’ and seized 44 lakh intoxicants and Rs 1.5 crore drug money/proceeds in the biggest ever such haul by Punjab Police.

The case began to unravel in May with the arrest of Balwinder Singh @ Nikka S/o Gurjant Singh and four others, alongwith 2,85,000 intoxicating tablets(Tab Clovidol) during investigation into FIR no. 72 dated 23.05.2020 u/s 21,22,25,29/61/85 NDPS Act PS Mehal Kalan. This further led to the arrest of Julfikar Ali s/o Mohammadin with 12,000 intoxicating tablets (Tab Clovidol). Julfikar’s questioning revealed the role of Harish as one of the masterminds in the influx and supply of pharmaceutical opioids into Punjab.

Following these arrests, the Barnala Police spent over two months developing the available leads, laying out elaborate surveillance plans and a trap was then laid out, with a special team being sent to West Bengal from where Harish was nabbed. It was Harish who disclosed the modus operandi of the gang and its chain of supply of Psychotropic Drugs not only in Punjab but in over 11 states of the country.

An FIR no. 344 dated13.07.2020 u/s 22,25,29/61/85 NDPS Act PS City Barnala was registered and subsequent raids in UP, Haryana Delhi, Punjab led to arrest of other gang members, alongwith seizure of a large quantity of pharmaceutical opioids, the drug proceeds-money and vehicles.

The DGP said investigations into the gang’s modus operandi so far have revealed that Harish posed as a Medical Representative to establish contact with Chemists and Pharmacists by using information like address and phone number, which he easily found over internet and social media. The contraband smugglers used a pre-identified network of couriers /transport /goods carriers, operating from major cities like Delhi, Agra, Amritsar, Jaipur, Gwalior and Bhopal, and delivered consignments to various locations in several states with the help of fake/undervalued bills using local transporters. Payment and transfer of money was done using the hawala channels, and also through multiple cash transactions into bank account especially created for this purpose.

The intoxicants seized are mostly pharmaceutical opioids. Many of these pharmaceutical products have legitimate and important medical use; however these products cannot be sold without a valid medical prescription from a registered medical practitioner. The gang was diverting these intoxicants, which are medically used for pain relief and treatment for opioid dependence, for extra-medical use, which can lead to major drug overdose issues and even deaths.

The DGP said that the operation carried out by Punjab Police and the huge recovery of pharmaceutical opioids is highly significant and is a major hit to the supply of drugs in Punjab, as according to ‘Magnitude of Substance Use in India-2019’, a study commissioned by Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, New Delhi, pharmaceutical opioids (which itself includes a variety of medications of the opioid group) are the second most commonly used opioids in India (0.96%), after heroin, which is the most commonly used opioid in India (1.14%). It is estimated that the harmful use/dependent use of pharmaceutical opioids constitutes about 40% of the drug problem in the State.



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