Drug Trafficking in India - a growing security and health threat: Detailed Analysis

For the last three decades, India has become a transit hub as well as a destination for heroin and hashish produced in the Golden Triangle and the Golden Crescent.


The nexus between drug traffickers, organised criminal networks and terrorists has created a force powerful enough to cause instability in the country. Money generated through the drug trade has been used to fund various insurgent and terrorist movements. For instance, it has been estimated that money generated from the illegal sale of narcotics accounted for 15 per cent of the finances of militant groups in Jammu and Kashmir.

Drug Trafficking in India: Interesting Facts

Recently, union minister for Home and Cooperation, Amit Shah presided over the Western Regional meeting on 'Drug Trafficking and National Security on Oct 26, 2022. on the occasion, he shed light on various astonishing statistics regarding drug menace in India.

So How Do The Drugs Reach India?

Role of International Borders in Drug Trafficking

Obviously through our international borders, both land and maritime. What's interesting to know is that different borders display different trafficking patterns. Let's have a look:

India-Pakistan border: The proximity of the India-Pakistan border to the Golden Crescent, the largest producer of opium and cannabis in the world, has made it vulnerable to the trafficking of heroin and hashish.

India-Nepal border: Hashish and marijuana/ganja are the two cannabis derivatives that have been traditionally trafficked from Nepal into India.

India-Myanmar border: The proximity of the India-Myanmar border to the Golden Triangle, growing demand for drugs among the local population, political collusion and instability, presence of numerous insurgents groups facilitating the trade, a porous and poorly guarded international border provides an enabling environment for traffickers to smuggle heroin and psychotropic substances into India through the India-Myanmar border.

India-Bangladesh border: A very long, poorly patrolled and highly porous border contribute towards drug trafficking along the India-Bangladesh border. The main drugs to come in through this route are heroin, marijuana/ganja, hashish, brown sugar, cough syrups, etc.

Well-established drug routes not only harm the health of the country but also poses a grave national security threat. The same route is used by enemy countries, insurgents, terrorists, and criminals to smuggle stuff like weapons, fake currencies, logistics, terrorists, and whatnot into India.

Maritime borders are not behind in the race

Drug trafficking through sea routes in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, estimated to account for around 70% of the total illegal drugs smuggled into India, poses a major challenge for law enforcement agencies. According to the latest annual report of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), the use of maritime routes by international drug syndicates based in Pakistan and Afghanistan is only expected to increase.

So protecting these borders is critical for the nation. And this is why India has adopted a comprehensive approach to reducing supply as well as demand for narcotics and drugs.

So what can we do to stop the drug problem in India?

  • Enact legislation
  • Ensure physical security of the borders and coasts
  • Better cooperation from neighbours
  • Co-operating with voluntary organizations in the national endeavour to prevent abuse of narcotics and synthetic drugs.

Don't we have any legislation against the drug menace?

We have many and the primary among them is the NDPS Act 1985

  • NDPS Act 1985 controls drug abuse and drug trafficking.
  • Under this act, cultivation, manufacturing, transportation, export and import of all narcotics drugs and psychotropic substances is prohibited except for medicinal and scientific purposes and as authorized by the government.
  • The Act provides for rigorous punishment for any person violating this act and if a person is caught peddling drugs for the second time, the death penalty could be awarded to the offender.
  • The act also provides for the detention of any person for more than two years in areas categorised by it as highly vulnerable.
  • The NDPS Act also provides for the forfeiture of property acquired through the illicit trafficking of drugs.
  • In addition, the government of India has also enacted the Prevention of Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act in 1988, which allows the detention of persons suspected to be involved in the illicit trafficking of drugs.
  • Besides, a few sections of the Customs Act of 1962 are implemented for curbing the illicit export of precursor chemicals.

Is there any dedicated force/entity in India to fight the drug menace?

Yes! It is known as Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB):

Narcotics Control Bureau, NCB is an Indian central law enforcement and intelligence agency instituted in 1986 to fight the drug menace in India. It helps in combating drug trafficking as well as the use of illegal substances, in accordance with the provisions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. It helps and coordinates with state governments, other central departments, and foreign drug law enforcement agencies on matters related to drugs. It also implements the following drug-related international treaties of India with respect to drug trafficking:

  • Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs
  • Convention on Psychotropic Substances, and
  • United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances.

Officers in NCB are hired by the Indian Police Service, Indian Revenue Service, and Paramilitary forces, apart from directly recruited members.

Which are the most trafficked drugs in India

Among the drugs being smuggled into the country in the largest quantity are cocaine (cultivated in South America and smuggled into India mainly through Nigerians), heroin (coming majorly from Pakistan), and marijuana which is either illegally grown within India or gets smuggled from Nepal.

Some 7,619 kg of Heroin was smuggled into India in 2021 which is almost double the amount in 2020. As for cocaine, 338 kg were seized by the agencies in 2021.

Local Cannabis as a poor replacement for foreign costly drugs

A growing trend was witnessed last year when the usage of cannabis - popularly known as Ganja/Bhang in Hindi - increased in the wake of a supply crunch of other drugs. Known as a traditional drug of India, it's cultivated fervently within India and Nepal and is known as the cheapest and commonest drug in India.

Drug Trafficking in India: Interesting Facts

Rise of New Drugs in India

  • Agencies have also witnessed the emergence and presence of a large number of new psychoactive substances (NPS), which are known in the market by terms such as "legal highs", "bath salts" and "research chemicals".
  • These include chemicals such as crotonylfentanyl, methooxyacetyl fentanyl, cafentanil, tramadol, ethylone, etc.
  • The problem with these new drugs is that they are tough for agencies to analyze and intercept.
  • And this is leading to their growing use, especially among the rich and influential lot.

List of challenges that the NCB and other anti-drug agencies face

  • Increase in maritime trafficking
  • Use of courier services
  • The emergence of illegal internet pharmacies
  • Use of the Dark Net to place orders and make payments
  • Diversion of pharmaceutical and prescription drugs for illicit consumption

What is the way out then?

  • A more skilled, more equipped, bigger pool of Manpower
  • A dedicated Task Force
  • Technological advancement
  • Better Intelligence Gathering

Interesting Facts on Drug Trafficking in India: NCB Report

  • More and more drugs are being seized and their trafficking rackets are being busted, especially in the western region of the country. Most of such drugs are sourced from Afghanistan via ports of Iran. The drug is then trafficked all over India and neighbouring countries via coastal states in India.
  • Heroin is the most trafficked drug through the sea route, but ATS (amphetamine-type stimulants), marijuana, cocaine, etc., are also among the drugs seized.
  • The largest ever drug seizure in the history of India took place at Mundra port in September 2021 when 2,988 kg of Afghan heroin worth ₹21,000 crores (on the street) was intercepted. Other large seizure includes 303 kg of cocaine in April 2021 by the DRI at Tuticorin port; and 637 kg heroin from two Sri Lankan boats by NCB in March and April 2021.
  • Apart from the sea route, the use of couriers, parcels and postal services to smuggle drugs has gone up significantly in the past two years. It indicates towards increasing use of the dark web to transport drugs in India.
  • These parcels are difficult to catch for 2 reasons: using unsuspected couriers for trafficking and second, these parcels contain too little drug amount to avoid interception by the agencies.
  • NCB's Kolkata unit investigated a case in July 2021 in which 20 kg of marijuana was sent to consumers in 54 parcels, with the payment made in bitcoins.

So which parts of India consumes these drugs the most?

  • It's the northeast and Punjab. Let's have a look at some interesting drug data related to North East:
  • Drugs worth Rs 768 crore were seized during 2006-2013, which increased by 25 times to Rs 20,000 crore between 2014-2022.
  • North Eastern region of the country shares international borders with four countries namely China, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Myanmar. And Myanmar - the second largest producer of opium in the world after Afghanistan - is the main culprit here.
  • The biggest problem with the Nort East is that Drug consumption here is too high.

So what is the solution?

  • Centre has decided to tackle the problem with a two-pronged strategy - one creating mass awareness against drug use, and second empowering law enforcement agencies with skill, technology and manpower.
  • The establishment of fast-track courts, more NCB offices, and instituting an anti-Narcotics Task Force is also on the cards.
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