Punjab: Breaking the nexus between drug mafia, police, political benefactors : The Tribune India

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Punjab: Breaking the nexus between drug mafia, police, political benefactors

Punjab govt’s dismissal of an AIG after opening SIT reports can only be the starting point of the clampdown

Punjab: Breaking the nexus between drug mafia, police, political benefactors

Contraband, suspected to be heroin, recovered from a pipe along the border. The Tribune & agencies

Jupinderjit Singh

A few days back, Punjab Police Service officer Raj Jit Singh, who had been posted as AIG (Headquarters, NRI wing), was dismissed from service and named a co-accused in a drug smuggling case. This action of the Punjab government has revived hopes of unravelling the nexus between those running the thriving drug racket, those backing the mafia and the police officials in the state.

A drone carrying drugs that was shot down. The Tribune & agencies

From 2013 to 2016, Punjab earned the dubious distinction of being the drug capital of the country. A crackdown by the state and Central agencies saw the registration of a record number of FIRs, besides several arrests. How deep this menace has penetrated can be gauged from the case of Inderjit Singh, an Inspector of Punjab Police, who allegedly befooled the entire department by showing deflated and fake recovery of drugs in collusion with colleagues. He was lauded for his efforts to check the menace, and even rewarded by his department. He would show ‘recovery’ of a small quantity of drugs. The rest, he’d either sell or plant the drugs on innocent victims to extort money. Inderjit was booked in 2017 after he was found to be involved in the drug smuggling racket.

A PIL filed in September 2013 by a Chandigarh-based NGO, Lawyers For Human Rights International, in the Punjab and Haryana High Court to check the drug menace and police-drug smuggler nexus, turned out to be a watershed moment. Every subsequent action on drugs came from the court hearings on this petition, including the formation of a Special Investigation Team (SIT) in 2017. This SIT has exposed the Inderjit-Raj Jit collusion.

A former state Intelligence chief, DGP Shashi Kant, who had joined the hearing on the petition earlier, dropped a bombshell when he claimed before the High Court that during his tenure, he had submitted a list of high-profile politicians and police officers who were invloved in the drug nexus. The list, he claimed, had gone missing from government records and was never made public. Even as the governments changed from the SAD-BJP (2007-17) to Congress (2017-2022) to AAP (from 2022), efforts to catch the big fish turned out to be elusive.

Raj Jit Singh

In 17 years, Inderjit rose from the rank of a Constable to Inspector under the local rank or the ORP (own rank pay) scheme. He was booked in June 2017 and arrested. His trial has been going on but no follow-up action has taken place, allegedly due to pressure from politicians and police officials. A major legal hurdle resulting in the delay in action has been the sealed reports in the High Court, which were submitted by the SIT in 2018. The reports, which were opened this month, exposed Raj Jit’s collusion and a case was registered against him. A separate inquiry was ordered to identify other police officers who may have been involved in similar cases. The letter from the Punjab government ordering the investigation, the first such official document, has highlighted the drug trafficking and extortion nexus in the state. Stating the possibility of involvement of senior police officials in this nexus, the letter noted that it was not possible for a low-ranking ORP Inspector to run such a huge network of drug trafficking and extortion alone.

Inderjit Singh

The letter said the investigating officer should examine the role of all police officers concerned, no matter how highly placed they may be, who directly or indirectly helped in drug trafficking and smuggling.

This letter will be key to any investigation on drugs in future. Unless the big fish, suspected of sheltering or helping drug smugglers and corrupt cops, are brought to book, action against the likes of Inderjit or Raj Jit would be a flash in the pan.

Consider the case of DSP-turned drug smuggler Jagdish Bhola, who was the first major catch, netted for running the Rs 700-crore drug racket in 2013. He had reportedly named Akali leader and minister Bikram Singh Majithia as part of the drug racket. No action was taken until November 2021 when the Charanjit Channi-led Congress government ordered the registration of a case against Majithia. The police have also not been able to catch several of Bhola’s associates, especially those hiding in foreign countries. A November 2021 status report submitted by the government in the High Court stated that extradition requests were pending with the Canadian government against several of Bhola’s associates, including Ranjit Singh Aujla, Gursewak Singh Dhillon, Nirankar Singh Dhillon, Sarabjit Singh Sander, Lehmbar Singh Daleh, Amarjit Singh Kooner, Pardeep Singh Dhaliwal, and Amrinder Singh Chheena.

Jagdish Bhola

Majithia was booked on December 20, 2021, under Sections 25, 27-A, and 29 of the NDPS Act, based on an investigation report by ADGP Harpreet Singh Sidhu, head of the STF on drugs. Majithia was accused of allowing drug smuggling through the use of his property or conveyance, harbouring offenders, financing the distribution or sale of drugs and hatching a criminal conspiracy for smuggling. Majithia remained in jail from February 14 to August 11, 2022. A petition for the cancellation of the case against him is pending in the Supreme Court. Punjab Police have failed to present a challan (police chargesheet) against him in court, even though nearly 16 months have passed since the registration of the FIR.

Bikram Majithia

In a recent press statement, Majithia said the AAP government, like the previous Congress regime, was playing politics. In an affidavit to the High Court on criminal cases pending against politicians, the Punjab Police said his case was under investigation.

Unless the Bhagwant Mann government takes the drug racket case to its logical end by exposing the smuggler-police network, the cases of politicians may also lead to incomplete investigation, and no action.

Govt action over the years

  • From 2012-2017 during the SAD-BJP rule, 65,489 arrests were made under the NDPS Act.
  • During the Congress rule, from 2017 to 2022, 68,575 persons were arrested.
  • From March 16, 2022 to March 16, 2023, in the first year of AAP coming to power, 17,568 arrests were made.

About the three SIT reports

  • Acting on a PIL against drug menace in Punjab, the Punjab and Haryana High Court formed a three-member SIT in December 2017 to look into the acts of misconduct by dismissed cop Inderjit Singh and his complicity with AIG Raj Jit Singh. The team, comprising DGP Siddharth Chattopadhyaya, ADGP Prabodh Kumar and IG Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singh, submitted two interim reports — on February 1 and March 15, 2018. The final report came on May 8.
  • The reports noted that Inderjit indulged in smuggling drugs from Pakistan, misappropriated recovered drugs and sold these through touts or planted those on innocents to extort money. The SIT also indicted his supervising officer, then Tarn Taran SSP Raj Jit Singh, for colluding with him.

Major cases

  • March 2013: Arjuna awardee wrestler-turned DSP-turned-drug smuggler Jagdish Bhola booked for running Rs 700-cr international synthetic drug racket.
  • June 12, 2017: Inderjit Singh booked for possessing and selling drugs, illegal weapons, misuse of authority and fudging records and extortion.
  • December 20, 2021: Akali leader Bikram Singh Majithia booked for allegedly helping in drug smuggling through the use of property or conveyance, harbouring offenders, financing distribution of drugs.
  • April 19, 2023: Punjab Police booked Raj Jit Singh, now dismissed, for criminal conspiracy, protecting dismissed cop Inderjit and indulging in extortion. He was named a co-accused with Inderjit in an FIR dated June 12, 2017.

Modus Operandi

From throwing drugs over barbed wire fences towards the Indian side of the border to pushing these through water pipes in waterproof covers, besides hiding drug consignments in fields, which are later collected by smugglers/couriers, and even using drones, the mafia has been smuggling drugs in innovative ways. Heroin packets have been found in special cavities in the Samjhauta Express.

Recently, on a tip-off, the Punjab Police intercepted a vehicle in which a farmer was carrying a tree trunk. When the tree trunk was cut open, a special cylindrical cavity was found in it and more than 25 kg of heroin from Pakistan was recovered.

#AIG Raj Jit Singh #punjab police

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