The whole “Make in India” idea is on a high – or, rather a low – as India’s drug barons begin pumping illegal yaba tablets into Bangladesh, giving suppliers in Myanmar a run for their money.
Although regarded as lower grade than their Myanmar counterpart, the methamphetamine and caffeine pills widely enjoyed as a party drug are now being made
India previously enjoyed the notoriety of being the main source of phensedyl, a codeine syrup banned in Bangladesh and a major contributor to Bangladesh’s drug addiction problem.
The Indian yaba menace was prioritised at the first meeting of the reconstituted central anti-smuggling task force held on February 28. This was the first official acknowledgement that yaba, popular as a sex stimulant, was coming in from India too.
The task force decided to reach out to India’s Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) to stamp out yaba smuggled from that country.
The rise in popularity and availability of yaba in Dhaka and elsewhere in Bangladesh is a matter of grave concern for the authorities as well as parents. Deputy Director of the Department of Narcotics Control Mukul Jyoti Chakma said yaba tablets made up some 33% of the contraband items seized by law enforcers.
According to police sources, over 23.2 million yaba pills, of all places of origin, were recovered in 2015 alone.
Two fronts, tough patrons
But the rise of India’s yaba factories has got Bangladeshi law enforcers fighting a two-front battle against drug smuggling, adding the western frontier to existing operations on the south-eastern coast along the Myanmar border.
Bangladesh and India’s 4,096-kilometre border is a virtual emporium for smugglers.
Over the last couple of years, the border forces of Bangladesh and India have worked to shut down illegal phensedyl factories along the Indian border.
Some observers speculate that a recent ban in India on phensedyl may be behind the shift to yaba production by illicit drugs manufacturers. Under increased scrutiny when transporting liquid formulations, Indian smugglers are finding it easier to move tablets to Bangladesh.
Even legally produced phensedyl was smuggled into Bangladesh for use as a narcotic.
Above-board drug companies that produced phensedyl, such as Abbot, has been hit hard by the ban and is fighting it in the courts. The Delhi High Court has granted an interim stay to drugmaker Abbott against a government move to ban phensedyl, India’s Economic Times reported recently.
Despite regular seizures of yaba by the law enforcers, the drug lords have always managed to keep one step ahead of the police.
A ruling party lawmaker and his family are among those sheltering smugglers of the drug from Myanmar, it has been reported.
In 2014, the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) published a report containing the names of a staggering 1,200 people believed to be involved in the illegal trade, including Cox’s Bazar Awami League lawmaker Abdur Rahman Bodi.
The list of those complicit in the trade includes law enforcers, local policemen, government officials, lawyers and even journalists.
Moinul Khan, director general of Customs Intelligence and also member secretary of the anti-smuggling task force, told the Dhaka Tribune recently that some smugglers were sending contraband pills originating in Myanmar to India to avoid raids in Bangladesh. Some of these pills later resurface on the border.
In addition to supplying local demand, yaba smuggled into the country is often meant for onward transport to Middle Eastern countries using courier services, police sources said.
Border Guard Bangladesh chief Maj Gen Aziz Ahmed told the Dhaka Tribune that they had recovered three consignments of yaba pills from along the Indian border. These, he said, were distinct from Myanmar yaba tablets.
“We suspect that someone might have made some fake yaba tablets on the Indian side
due to its high price and high demand in Bangladesh,” said the BGB chief, also a member of the task force.
He said specific information on the movement of Indian yaba smugglers would not be possible unless surveillance along the border is increased.
The Dhaka Tribune made contact with drug dealers and users in the northern region of the country to check the current status of yaba smuggling.
Md Kuddus, a drug dealer from Dinajpur, acknowledged that he did not need to bring yaba pills from Dhaka or Cox’s Bazar.
“It has been available in the border areas for the last year. Smugglers bring yaba tablets along with phensedyl from India,” he said, adding that yaba was safer and cheaper to move than phensedyl or other drugs.
“The pills coming from India, available only in pink, are cheap because of their low quality. It is sold for Tk160 to Tk180 in the border areas. The other varieties – green and white – do not come from India,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.
Carriers and courier services
Based on a tip-off from an international intelligence agency, the DNC in January recovered a parcel from the courier section of Dhaka airport’s cargo village. Officials recovered 1,000 yaba pills packed among jeans and leather footwear.
The parcel was sent to the UAE from Bangladesh, but returned because no one received it in Dubai.
In December, Customs Intelligence officials arrested Mohammad Harun and recovered 3,300 yaba tablets and 2kg marijuana from his possession. He was travelling to Kuwait from Dhaka.
The Detective Branch of police recovered a shipment of yaba pills from inside a packet of herbal products from Uttara in November. The package was brought from Myanmar but was on its way out of the country, DB sources said.
Through confessions from a number of arrestees, law enforcers have pieced together that Bangladesh is fast becoming a major transit point for the smuggling of drugs, especially yaba, using courier services, a senior DB official said, asking not to be named as he is not authorised to speak to media.
Syed Toufiq Uddin Ahmed, director (operations) of the DNC, told the Dhaka Tribune that the Dubai airport authorities had detected and sent back thousands of yaba pills discovered in courier parcels. They had been sent from Bangladesh using the DHL and CEX courier services.
“We have started investigating the courier services’ databases in the hope of tracking down
the gangs and delivery routes,” he said.
Bangladesh does not have high quality narcotics detection machines making it difficult for law enforcers to tackle smuggling operations, he said.
Nevertheless, Customs Intelligence Director General Moinul said parcels leaving the country are strictly being monitored. “Instructions have been given to the ports to check parcels properly before giving clearance.”