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It is estimated that more than 40 lakh people are addicted to illegal drugs while over one lakh people are involved with illegal drug trade and supply in the country. Though there is no accurate statistic about the number of drug addicts from a nationwide survey, the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC), thinks that the number is increasing day by day but claiming that the situation is much better than other countries in the global context.
However, the home minister, Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir, on June 26 said the use of narcotics in the country has reduced significantly. He made this comment at the discussion titled ‘International Day against Abuse of Narcotics and Illicit Smuggling’, organised by DNC at Osmani Memorial Auditorium with director general of DNC Mohammad Iqbal in the chair.
A top DNC official says to Xtra that a drug addict spends Tk 300 every day on an average on narcotics while it goes to 40 lakh people involving Tk 120 crore on daily transaction. About 110 to 140 cases are filed every month averagely in connection of illegal drug business, the official adds. According to a World Health Organization survey, most of the drug users are young, ranging in age from 18 to 30 years.
‘We assume that the DNC and other law enforcement agencies are able to seize maximum only 5 per cent of the total drug trafficking across the country,’ says an official from DNC intelligence unit in condition of being anonymous. He also says that there is a worldwide estimation system that the percentage of prevailing narcotics is 20 per cent higher than the recovered amount.
However, Bangladesh is a signatory to all the three UN Conventions as the ‘Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs, as amended by the Protocol amending the Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs’ in 1961, ‘Convention on Psychotropic Substances’ in 1971 and ‘UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances’ in 1988.
Besides, Bangladesh is also a signatory to the SAARC convention on Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances in 1990 while Bangladesh signed agreement for mutual cooperation with Myanmar in 1994, Iran in 1995 and with India in 2006. However, a vast progress of such conventions and agreement is yet to be proceeded while illicit drugs trafficking are still continuing.
According to intelligence sources, hundreds of syndicates, who are involved in illegal drug business, are still active across the country while DNC official says more than 15oo people are involved in drug business only in Dhaka city. However, the syndicates are becoming strongly active ahead of the Eid as on the occasion of religious festivals it becomes a lucrative business, the sources add.
Currently, main drugs of abuse are heroin, cannabis, phensidyl, buprenorphine and yaba while buprenorphine is the most common injecting drug. According to DNC, the use of ‘yaba’ has been increasing at an alarming rate than the other narcotics around the country while now ‘yaba’ is also spreading from urban areas to the rural areas.
The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) in its 2012 report states, the most frequently abused drug is heroin, then codeine, contained in cough syrup which is locally named as phensedyl while third most abused drug is cannabis which is locally named as ‘gaja’. Recently, ‘yaba’ has become one of the three main non-pharmaceutical drugs abused in Bangladesh, after heroin and cannabis, according to the report.
The DNC and all other law enforcement agencies in Bangladesh are now mostly concerned over the ‘yaba’ trafficking and abuse in the country.
On June 20, on information, a team of Dhaka metropolitan detective and criminal intelligence division of police recovered a total of around 30,000 pieces of ‘yaba’ tablet from six accused persons including two women from the city’s Chakbazaar, Kamlapur and Banasri at their special drive. The worth of the recovered drugs is about Tk 6.5 million.
Among the female arrestees, Manila Chawdhury (22) is a third year student of Finance department at Dhaka Titumir College, who was detained 10 months in jail for her involvement in ‘yaba’ business. The other arrestees are Taher (48), Kulsum (32), Jan-e-Alam (45), Khaled (30) and Asif (24).
Both Taher and Manila were working for Abdus Shukkur alias Shakur Mahmud alias Shaku. Taher later told the intelligence that he used to traffic yaba from Myanmar via Teknaf illegally while Kulsum, Khaled and Asif used to sell those tablets to different areas in Chittagong and Dhaka.
The INCB states that regarding amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS), trafficking in methamphetamine pills from Myanmar into South Asia continue to rise while in Bangladesh, seizures of ‘yaba’ ATS tablets, whereas pills containing methamphetamine and caffeine, in 2011 rose to their highest levels in the past few years.
According to DNC statistics, 1,951,392 yaba tablets were recovered in 2012 by all agencies while 1,360,186 in 2011, 812,716 in 2010 and 129,644 in 2010. The INCB considered this as a dramatic rise compared with 2006, when just 2000 tablets were seized.
In the region of Myanmar that borders Bangladesh, at least 14 illicit methamphetamine factories were identified while Myanmar is a known route for ATS trafficking into Bangladesh, the INCB reports.
The additional deputy police commissioner of detective and criminal intelligence division, Mashiur Rahman, tells Xtra, controlling yaba trafficking is quite tough than any other drugs as it is easy to hide and carry out trafficking. Thousands of yaba tablets can be easily carried into little bags or anything like that by hiding it easily into any parts of buses, trucks or any other vehicles.
Without prior information, it is quite hard to check every vehicle on the road to identify and recover yaba from any trafficking, he adds.
Mashiur further says, the drug peddlers deliberately change their pattern of trafficking to ensure a safe trade while they use hundreds of mobile sim-card and frequently change their mobile phone set and number after doing a transaction.
DNC officials say that the drug peddlers use everything which can be safely used for carrying drugs as often they hide yaba inside their undergarments while sometimes they carry phensidyl attached with their body.
Minimum one hundred yaba tablets can be hidden inside a mobile phone set where battery is placed down, the official says, adding that, ‘think how we would identify whether anyone walking on the road is an ordinary person or a drug peddler if we have no prior information of the illicit trafficking while it is quite impossible to search every person or every vehicle on the road as a drug peddler could be anyone from a child to an old aged person irrespective of their gender.’
The officials also say that, cannabis, heroin and yaba are hard to identify when trafficking as within a little place a huge quantity of such drugs can be concealed while phensidyl, compared to these drugs, cannot be easily carried as it needs to be filled up into bottles.
Few months ago, a consignment of yaba tablets was seized from an empty truck which was headed to Dhaka from Teknaf. On information, we seized those illicit tablets. Later we became astonished that the empty truck was hired for about Tk 1 lakh for this consignment, says Pranab Kumar Neoji, director of operation and intelligence at DNC.
On the other hand, another alarming fact is that as Bangladesh is in a vulnerable situation regarding illicit drug trafficking due to its geographic and strategic location, Bangladesh has been increasingly used as a transit country for heroin shipments using Dhaka Airport and the seaport of Chittagong as exit-points.
However, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of United States of America in its world fact book and INCB in its 2012 report identified Bangladesh as a transit country for illegal drugs produced in neighbouring countries.
Intelligence sources say that several gangs are active who smuggled mostly heroin using Bangladesh as transit point delivering to different countries through international courier service companies in Bangladesh.
On September 2, 2012, the detective branch of police arrested Shamsul Arefin Tuhin, one of the agents of an international gang who is involved in heroin trafficking, from Mohammadpur area in the city at around 12:00am and recovered about 2kg heroin including some polythene for heroin packing and a polythene sealer.
Tuhin on July 17, 2012 went to the Aramex courier service branch at Savar to send a pair of shoes and a lungi to Birmingham in United Kingdom. Later, two packets were identified as heroin after checking inside the shoes where it was hidden. However, the employees of the branch kept the heroin packets to themselves and delivered the order to Birmingham while they sold one packet to a criminal and returned the other packet to Tuhin by calling him on phone.
The DB police also arrested four of the branch in connection to this case. Tuhin later told the DB that he was involved in heroin trafficking for the last five years in Bangladesh while he delivered at least 50 consignments to London where his cousin lives, Shah Alam Sumon, who was also involved in heroin trade in Birmingham.
Tuhin also said that there are some more persons who were involved in this trade and also delivered more than 20 consignments of heroin to London, adding that, he had several agents in Sylhet, Sunamganj, Feni and Noakhali who are involved in international illicit drug trafficking.
The intelligence sources mention that, using several international courier service companies some international gangs are continuing drug trafficking through shoes, books, magazines by packing the drug in a special way in the name of order delivery.
Some four courier companies, DHL, T&T, Aramex and Fedex, are under observation by the intelligence unit including the Bangladesh post office, the sources add.
However, recently, several foreign nationals are becoming involved in illicit drug trafficking while many of them were arrested in this connection.
Few weeks ago, the DNC arrested a Peruvian citizen, named as Juan Pablo Rafael (27), with three kilogram cocaine from a room of a three star hotel at Karwan Bazar in the city. An official said that it would be worth nearly Tk 60 crore.
What the agencies do
The law enforcement agencies including DNC agree that the number of illicit drug users have been increasing day by day while yaba is becoming a major concern for the law enforcement and also a major threat to the young generation.
According to the DNC statistics, 10,014 cases were filed by DNC in 2012 while 8,749 in 2011, 8,019 in 2010, 7,764 in 2009, 7,842 in 2008, 7,589 in 2007, 7,355 in 2006, 7,191 in 2005, 5,972 in 2004, 5,613 in 2003, 5,747 in 2002 and 4,648 in 2001 while a total of 34,101 cases were filed between 1990 and 2000.
Moreover, 11,040 people were accused in this connection in 2012, 9,336 in 2011, 8,283 in 2010, 7,968 in 2009, 8,598 in 2008, 8,476 in 2007, 7,821 in 2006, 8,081 in 2005, 6,855 in 2004, 6,575 in 2003, 6,863 in 2002 and 5,088 in 2001 while 33,361 were accused between 1990 and 2000, the statistics show.
A total of 12,304 patients had received private treatment while 6,308 were new and 5,996 were old, and 66 of them were female patients. However, it was only 2,585 patients in 2011 where no female was under treatment, according to DNC.
At present, there are a total of 1283 sanctioned posts for officials and employers in DNC while still 271 posts are vacant. There are 64 officers in first class instead of 91, 43 in second class from 54, 822 in third class from 1033 and 83 in fourth class from 105 posts, informed a source from DNC.
Among the field officers, DNC has now 149 inspectors instead of 165 sanctioned posts while 81 sub-inspectors against 102, 56 assistant sub-inspectors against 98 and 351 constables in place of 414 posts.
DNC has divided the entire country into 108 circles while there are 4 intelligence areas and 25 sub-areas. However, DNC runs its activities in the whole Dhaka division with only 11 intelligence officers instead of only 13 sanctioned posts while there are only 6 field officers out of the 11.
While asking the DNC and police department about why the abuse of narcotics could not be controlled, both are found blaming each other, while at the same time pointing out weaknesses of the government, responsible departments, society, political power practice, judiciary and public concern.
The DG of DNC Mohammad Iqbal tells Xtra that due to lack of manpower it is hard to work across the country. How can only 1283 employees work for about 16 crore people in the country over such a crucial issue?
It is ridiculous that only 6 field officers are working in its intelligence all around the Dhaka division, a top official says on condition of anonymity.
‘We also lack technical equipments like walkie-talkie, uniform, arms and other logistic support as well as proper training to our officers and employees,’ says Iqbal.
‘We could not provide enough medical support and proper treatment for rehabilitation to the drug addicts due to lack of doctors,’ he says, adding that, this wing of DNC is in worst situation.
He also claims that there is not enough coordination between DNC and other law enforcement agencies as the police force usually work at their own whim while we have to face a harsh and unexpected experience when working with them.
He says, ‘we are trying our best to control the illicit drug abuse in the country through our activities and motivation to the people by raising awareness among the people.’
While asking him that why illicit drug trafficking could not be controlled and stopped within a satisfactory situation at the border areas in the country, he replies that, it is very much difficult to protect our 4000 km long border areas with a small force of Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB).
‘If we want to protect our border and maintain a satisfactory condition, we need more than 10 lakh members from BGB while our border is totally unsafe comparing with India,’ he continues.
He also says, India has already made barbed wire fence all around its border while inside the fence they constructed road and kept powerful lamp posts, therefore their border forces can easily move anywhere within a very short time at any time.
But on contrary, ‘we have nothing. The illicit drug trafficking is hard to bring under control until our porous borders are safe in all way,’ he says.
The DNC chief stresses that their organisation works relentlessly to reduce the drug abuse but it falls short of its commitment while continuing regular duties within its limited capacity.
The assistant director of DNC intelligence unit, Hamimur Rashid, tells Xtra, ‘we have no narcotics detection machine for which we cannot identify or search illicit drugs without having any prior information.’
An inspector of DNC, says on condition of anonymity, sometimes we face dangerous situations, even life risking ones as we have to move into anti-drug operation in which most of the drug addicts and drug dealers are very much offensive. ‘Still we have to risk our lives in such operations.’
He also claims, ‘we have to wait for law enforcement for a long time due to lack of cooperation and coordination. Thus, often the drug smugglers escape by completing their transaction and trade due to lack of police or RAB forces within the right time.
A high official from the intelligence, however, pointed out several weaknesses of the entire system in which the drug businessmen use it and they are to successfully doing their trade and supply of illicit drugs.
The government as always seems to be having a hard time ensuring a secured border area alongside the country. On the other hand, it cannot also facilitate adequate rehabilitation to the accused and convicted person in jail.
The high official from the intelligence also thinks that political power practice has reached an unbearable situation. A poor guy never is a drug smuggler rather s/he is merely a victim while a rich and powerful mafia hovers above him or her.
He also says that the judiciary fails most of the time to convict an accused drug dealer while a strong syndicate is involved in the corruption.
When a drug dealer is sent to court, several lawyers are found to fight for the accused even before getting paid as they know that if they can secure a bail there is no need to worry about the payment, sometimes the court judge is not out of such corruption, he adds.
Influential businessmen, politician are mostly involved in drug trafficking who are always out of law, say police.
An allegation is found that both the BGB and Indian Border Security Force (BSF) make speed money from the drug dealers for turning a blind eye to illicit drug trafficking.
The BGB director general was not available to comment on the allegation although Xtra sought an explanation.
A high ranking intelligence official has expressed concern over the security system of the country’s airport and other international entry points. To stop using Bangladesh as a transit country, the airport and embassy verification system should be brought into force as soon as possible, he adds. XFJBDGPRJTBH
This Story was published @ XTRA