One of their strategies is to use the law to defeat the law. At the nascent stage of the investigation, they seek court intervention, file cases alleging lack of jurisdiction, third-degree torture, extortion, etc and try to stall the probe.
India’s land and maritime borders have evolved into a dangerous strategic environment. The Union Territory of J&K and Punjab have been regularly reporting large seizures of various kinds of narcotic drugs. The Western maritime border is seeing unprecedented seizures of narcotics. On 15 November 2021, the Gujarat Anti-Terrorist Squad (ATS) recovered 120 kg of heroin worth Rs 600 crore from Zinzuda village in Morbi district and arrested three people. Preliminary investigation has revea,led that the consignment of heroin came via the sea route after receiving the delivery from a Pakistani boat. In September 2021, 3,000 kg of narcotic drugs were seized at Mundra Port by DRI officials, in one of the biggest drug hauls that India has ever seen, valued at Rs 21,000 crore. On 18 March 2021, the Indian Coast Guard seized narcotics to the tune of Rs 3,000 crore off the Minicoy Island in Lakshadweep in the Arabian Sea. The seizure also included five AK-47 rifles and 1,000 live rounds of ammunition. On 5 March 2021, Indian Coast Guard intercepted a Sri Lankan vessel, Akarsha Duwa, with six crew members off Minicoy Island. Upon questioning, the crew confessed to carrying 200 kg of high grade heroin and 60 kg of hashish, which was jettisoned in the sea on sighting the Coast Guard ships.
On 19 November 2021, Customs and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) officials seized several containers at Mundra Port, believed to contain radioactive substances that were being shipped on a foreign vessel from the Pakistani port city of Karachi to Shanghai in China. The statement from Adani Port and Logistics said the joint team of Customs and DRI “seized several containers at Mundra Port from a foreign vessel on concerns that they contained undeclared hazardous cargo”. The statement added: “While the cargo was listed as Non-Hazardous, the seized containers had Hazard Class 7 markings (which indicate radioactive substances).”
Wide publicity was given to the above seizures in the media and which earned the concerned departments sterling accolades. This is also a strategy to acquire high-visibility and is referred to as “expressive law enforcement”. The operational task is to increase the total number of narcotics arrests, raids and seizures in order to convey that the departments are operating at peak efficiency level. It also serves the purpose of delivering a warning message to prospective offenders that the departments have secured the borders and made them impregnable. But there can be counter moves from the side of narco-terrorists also.
Juan Camillo Castillo, Stanford University and Dorothy Kronick, University of Pennsylvania, in their article, “The Logic of Violence in Drug War” looks at the unintended consequences of two typical drug-war policies: government seizures of illegal drugs, and arrests of big-name drug traffickers.
Castillo and Kronick in their study conclude that government seizures of illegal drugs can reduce the supply of drugs that make it to the streets—but in doing so, seizures also raise prices. And because there is often no comparable substitute for illegal drugs, higher prices may not dampen demand. In that case, the drug mafia’s profits go up. This can spark turf wars, because mafias are more inclined to fight over higher profits.
Second and most important, big-name drug traffickers have always caught the imagination of youngsters, the general public, film-producers and movie stars. The common and immediate recollection of big-name drug traffickers enacted by movie maestros are that of Marlon Brando in The Godfather series and that of Al Pacino and his “trinity” of money, power, and beautiful women in Scarface. In the West it is quite common for narco-drug lords to brandish their identity, but in India, the publicity or exposure is very minimal. Even those few who acquired a cult status, got it because of their Bollywood film connections.
The most intriguing aspect of all the seizures made by Indian agencies, mentioned supra, is the total absence of any name of any drug baron who is masterminding the big maritime operations of drugs into India. This indeed is the first power strategy—the mastermind remains lurking deep in the background, an anonymous identity. Even a speculation is denied. Such is the cloak of invisibility draped around the Mr X.
Third, operational excellence, command and capability, lies in successfully engaging all the agencies in a high-profile dummy case, while the real action would be elsewhere. Case-in-point is the high-profile Mumbai drugs-on-cruise case, involving the spoilt brat of a superstar. Every enforcement agency of the country was obsessively engrossed and utilising their meagre manpower to unravel the drug appetite of a 21-year-old and his group of young men and women. The media itself was riveted in the case to the point of addiction, and the whole nation was in the throes of an excitement over a bail application that blitzed its way through to the High Court for final denouement. All the agencies went after a beautiful mirage. Hardly any seizure of drugs worth the name!
Fourth strategy is to pounce on the hunter—hammer and tongs. Hire any nincompoop to assail the principal investigator. Every day create a ruckus in the media by questioning the family life of the investigator: where he went for vacation, why he went for vacation, his marriage certificate, his caste, his religion and levy corruption charges. Have these issues any bearing on the seizure of contraband? The purpose is to create utter confusion and chaos in the ranks of the investigators, instil in them the fear of transfer, or initiating a vigilance case, and consequent opprobrium. Thus the organisation is forced to be on the defensive, the government is compelled to be on the defensive, and the public keeps debating whether or not to pursue the case or throw out the investigator. Fourth strategy is on full decibel in the current Mumbai cruise-ship-drugs-bust case.
Fifth strategy is to use the law to defeat the law. At the nascent stage of investigation itself, seek intervention of the courts. Keep filing cases alleging lack of jurisdiction, third-degree torture, extortion, and abuse of investigatory powers. If not derailing the investigation, it will stall the investigations, giving precious time to the traffickers to erase and destroy vital evidence and help some to flee to safe foreign havens.
Sixth strategy is to create a confrontation between the Central and State governments. If the local State Government is not on friendly terms with the Central Government, make the accused file police complaints against the investigators about torture, extortion, pressurising by investigators to name local politicians and bureaucrats as co-conspirators. With the tacit connivance and consent of the State Government the local police will keep issuing summons, record statements of the accused implicating the investigators, frame charges and even issue arrest warrants. The investigators will scramble to the courts, the net result is Central Government officials will be unable to discharge their duties, thereby all investigations will be crippled. This strategy was successfully employed in the Kerala gold smuggling case of 2020.
Seventh strategy is to exploit to the hilt the fact that the Jail Department functions under the State Government. If the State Government is at loggerheads with the Central Government, all accused by various Central Government agencies, will land in jail till their bail applications are disposed of by the courts. These accused, in the confines of the jail, can be instigated to level all kinds of charges against the Central Government agencies and their officers, ranging from statements being dictated, threatened and coerced. A spanner in the works, but it can delay, disrupt and derail the course of all future investigations. The seventh strategy also saw successful implementation in the Kerala gold smuggling case of 2020.
Eighth strategy is, if there is involvement of young girls in the case, invariably level charges of molestation and sexual demands against the investigators. The situation becomes highly dicey if there is involvement of minor girls which could complicate things miserably for the investigators. Investigators handling rave party cases, gold and foreign exchange cases, are all at high-risk of facing indefensible charges relating to sexual demands and sexual gratification. The investigators in the Mumbai cruise-drugs-bust are lucky that in spite of the presence of a large number of young girls on the cruise-ship, no such charges were levelled against them. Though the investigating team had women officers, yet that cannot prevent sexual harassment charges being levelled against their male counterparts. The POCSO Act is very stringent, so investigators need to be on high-alert when dealing with minor girls.
Ninth strategy is to keep innovating constantly. Thus, land borders in Punjab and Kashmir witnessed traffickers crossing borders, using camels, thereafter using tunnels, and recently switching to using drones. In the aerial mode, commercial flights are used and at the maritime level it is usage of container ships, fishing vessels, and go-fast boats. In certain South American countries, the traffickers even used narco-submarines. Constant innovation and changing transportation strategies is the rule of the game.
Tenth strategy is to employ the ‘balloon effect’. As drugs are always in demand and highly profitable, dismantling of one drug trafficking organization, by enforcement agencies doesn’t just extinguish the drug trade. Instead, another drug trafficking organization replaces it, filling the same demand that the old group catered to. This happens routinely around the world. Drug trafficking and terror organizations just keep emerging, under a new garb and name. The list is endless.
One reason for this “balloon effect” is what experts call the “profit paradox”. One of the primary goals of drug enforcement is to disrupt the supply-chain, the idea being that a drug habit is much more difficult to sustain if drugs are expensive. But this also makes drugs immensely profitable. Their cost of production is very negligible, drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin are just plants or based on plants, but the street value is incredibly high, because of addition of factoring the costs of risk of shipping the contraband, through an international supply chain, that can be broken by government authorities at any border.
The eleventh and final strategy is to rely on the incapacity of the courts and penal system to mete out deserved punishments. The best legal brains can be purchased to wriggle out of any charge, whether drug offences or terror-crimes. Highly specialised crimes like drug-trafficking, narcotics trafficking, gold and foreign exchange smuggling are all being dealt with by inadequate laws, meant for routine criminal offences, by a hierarchy of courts, functioning in a different time-zone.
Counter narco-terrorism is already a very complex game around the world. It is not just the law enforcement officials who are spearheading the offensive but an equally important role is played by media, judiciary, lawyers and politicians, in the counter narco-terror crusade. In the end nobody can claim what is the correct strategy, but every institution that functions in the forefront and in the background, needs to be fully alert about the long-term strategic vision of the nation. Till then we have to repeat what Brick Scoggins, former head of counter-narcotics at the US Department of Defense, has been quoted as saying, “It’s the strategy we are using. I don’t know what the alternative is.”
Dr G. Shreekumar Menon, IRS (Rtd) PhD (Narcotics), www.shreekumarmenon.com is former Director General, National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics, & Multi-Disciplinary School of Economic Intelligence India. www.shreekumarmenon.com