Take a moment and think about groceries. Back in the day, you had your neighbourhood kirana store that took care of some of your needs. As time passed, the supermarkets opened up. Some in your neighbourhood itself, some in the nearby mall. All your needs under one roof. These days, however, you could download an app and bread and eggs and milk will be delivered straight to your doorstep. The same evolution is happening in Punjab. Except the product is Heroin. Or Chitta, as they call in this part of the world.
Let me introduce you to Gurudev, he is a truck driver and a mobile drug shop. Much like the grocery apps, he takes orders on phone and swings by your locality to deliver his products. Tall statements by Capt Amarinder Singh aside, business of Gurudev and many like him seems to be booming
This is the story of Punjab where almost two-thirds of Punjab’s households have at least one addict in the family. The state has 836 drug users per 100,000 people as per the findings of the Union ministry of social justice and empowerment and this is way above the national average of 250 drug users per 100,000 people.
The problem is so deep that the 2017 Assembly elections in the state were fought in the name of drugs. The Akali regime which was largely seen as the ‘patrons’ of the billion rupees drug industry was booted out and Captain Amarinder Singh of the Congress came to power. His main promise this election was to weed out drugs from Punjab within a month.
But close to 90 days later, the CNN-News18 investigation showed how drugs and the peddlers continues to thrive in the hinterland of Punjab. We took our investigation to the districts close to the international border, the Majha region of the state where we had exposed the flourishing drug industry in 2016. This time too we found out hardly anything has changed here since the change in the government. Mukhtiar Singh Patti, of Tarn Taran who lost his son to drugs and has since turned into an anti-drug activist tells CNN-News18 ‘Nothing has changed with the change in government. Only difference is the drug prices have now’
SAME PEDDLERS DIFFERENT STRATEGY
CNN-NEWS18 spent over 2 weeks traveling through the Majha region of Punjab. For the first couple of days it appeared that the state has actually moved on from drugs and the peddlers are running scared. But our probe team realized soon that the game has changed. The mafia is omnipresent but they have stopped trusting outsiders. Thus we used a reformed drug addict as our conduit with those selling the contrabands and in just three days we were in touch with three local dealers.
PEDDLERS CAUGHT ON CAMERA
Of the three we were told Baaju is the big fish of Patti, from a small dose to a gram and more he is always there with the supplies. Gurudev is officially a truck driver but also uses the truck as his delivery vehicle, supplying drugs across Punjab. The CNN-News18 investigative team managed to capture both these peddlers on camera. There was another dealer, Shinder, who backed out at the last moment and hence evaded the camera. Striking the deal was easy and rather simple. We called Baaju asking him for ‘Chitta’. The conduit, whose identity has been kept secret made those calls for the team. The conversation was in Punjabi and went roughly like this:
Conduit: we need stuff do you have any?
Baaju: Yes I have.
C: Where do I come?
B: Come to the railway station.
B: And get some corn from your field
Soon we loaded our vehicle with corn and was on our way to the Patti station. The conduit was asked to wait under a tree near the station. About 20 minutes later they called and informed that they were on their way to meet them. At the station, they did not disappoint. As instructed our conduit tried to raise the state, he asked if a larger consignment was possible. A confident Baaju assured that as long as payments are made on time, any size of the consignment is possible.
The next man caught in the net was Gurudev, the roaming peddler. He invited the conduit to his truck, treated him to ‘lassi’. Later after taking the money left our man in the truck and went out to get the promised stuff.
In spite of a heightened police action in the cities, the Punjab hinterland stays as badly hit by drugs as ever. The team, while travelling through the state, noticed that prescription drugs are difficult to get. The police crackdown in the cities did have some impact but the delivery remains a far cry from the complete annihilation of drugs promised by Captain Amarinder Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab.
The sting operation was done by Shubhajit Sengupta of CNN-News18