By B V Kumar, Former Member, CBEC
MOST of us are familiar with the French Connection. A casual observation by two FBI officers over a kiosk and the person managing it led to a massive seizure of drugs and the busting of a whole syndicate. A similar thing happened when something was noticed on the streets of Kolkata.
What probably started as an insignificant and innocuous seizure of 44 methaqulone tablets in the streets of Kolkata by the Criminal Investigation Department (Narcotics Cell) of West Bengal Police ended in one of the biggest operations extending to six Indian States and seizure of over 800 Kgs of methaqualone powder and tablets (a psychotropic drug) illegally manufactured and marketed.
The West Bengal C.I.D., on receiving a tip off on 23.7.87, about the sale of Methaqualone tablets near Behala Tram Depot, Calcutta, intercepted two persons Swapan Pal and Swapan Dutta and found on them 44 tablets of ‘Prodorm’, a trade name for ‘Methaqualone’ formulation. Spot inquiries showed that the tablets were obtained from, located in Mehta Building, Central Calcutta through a person known as Kapil.
At this stage, Mr. Rajat Majumdar, D.I.G., C.I.D., Calcutta sought the help of Mr. John Kathing, Deputy Director, Narcotics Control Bureau, Calcutta and a joint operation was mounted. A decoy customer was set up to trap kapil and this succeeded on 28.7.87 when Kapil made delivery of 944 strips (9,440 tablets). Besides Kapil Shah, one Sitaram who was bringing the tablets was also arrested. Kapil’s interrogation revealed that the supplier of the tablets was one Upendra Yadav who was supplying the drugs with the help of two middlemen, Thakur and Babu Ram, who could not be traced. Enquiries showed the probable involvement of one Gopal Biswas and his residence was searched on 29.7.87, without any results. However, close questioning of Gopal Biswas showed that he had discontinued the dealings after its prohibition. He, However, divulged the name of one Ram Awtar Agarwal of M/s. P.D.M. Agencies, 6-Coolootota Street, Calcutta – 700 001, as still dealing in these tablets.
On the same day, (29.7.87), the business premises of M/s. Yadav & Co. and M/s. Ghosal & Co., located in Mehta Building were searched. From M/s. Ghosal & Co., 102 prodorm tablets were seized and the owner Niranjan Biswas was taken to custody. Upendra Yadav of M/s. Yadav & Co. who made a vain attempt to escape was prevented and search of his shop resulted in recovery of certain documents.
On the same day, the premises of M/s. P.D.M. Agencies were also searched in the absence of Ram Awtar Agarwal. M/s. P.D.M. Agencies, which was dealing in the distribution of pharmaceutical products was found to be stocking many spurious drugs / medicines. One tea Chest in a packed condition and which had been received from Delhi, was found. On opening, it was found to contain 34,730 prodorm tablets. One Nirmal Barik who was looking after the firm was arrested.
On 30.7.87 the residence of Ram Awtar Agarwal was searched but he was not located.
While going through the documents seized till then, it came to light that one Dr. Sham Lal was despatching the Prodorm tablets from Delhi. Mr. John Kathing and Mr. Rajat Majumdar communicated the available information, like certain addresses and telephone numbers, to the D.G. Narcotics Control Bureau, New Delhi. The address of one Lily Pharmaceuticals, Ladwa, also surfaced during the sifting of the documents and this was also passed, on to the N.C.B., New Delhi.
Ram Awtar Agarwal was intercepted on 30.7.87 on his arrival at Calcutta by air from Aizwal. He admitted that he was disposing of Prodorm tablets received from Dr. Sham Lal of Delhi and he has been distributing these tablets in Manipur and Mizoram.
On 31.7.87, NCB, Zonal Unit, Calcutta, requested the D.R.I. Officers of Patna to search the premises of M/s. Fair Deal Agencies owned by Sham Agarwal, brother of Ram Awtar Agarwal, but the search did not materialize in any seizure.
On 1.8.87 the C.I.D. Officers of West Bengal, led by Rajat Majumdar, intercepted 12 packages received from M/s. Moonjipa Roadways. Examination of these packages resulted in the seizure of 3,03,000 Prodorm tablets from 9 of the packages. The consignor and consignee were shown as M/s. Radicura Pharma.
In the meantime, N.C.B., Hqrs., at New Delhi initiated a plan of action to raid all the concerned premises of Dr. Sham Lal at Delhi and at Ladwa, near Kurukshetra (Haryana) and teams were sent to these places. At Ladwa, 4 premises including M/s. Lily Pharmaceuticals were raided. At the premises of M/s. Lily Pharmaceuticals, tabletting of Prodorm tablets was in full swing. 151.500 Kgs. of Methaqualone powder besides 46,300 Prodorm tablets, aluminium foil for encasing the tablets and one tabletting machine were found and seized. From the residence of Dr. Sham Lal, 15 Kgs of methaqualone powder was seized. Dr. Sham lal and his son Ashwini Kumar were arrested. Sham Lal and his sons had been previously involved in an offence for manufacturing methaqualone tablets and he was in judicial custody for 7 months in 1985, before he was released on bail.
On the disclosures made by Sham Lal, the factory and residential premises of one Gopal Maheshwari at Delhi were searched on 2.8.87. From the residential premises at Chandani Chowk, Delhi, 12450 strips each containing 10 prodorm tablets were recovered. Gopal Maheshwari was arrested. He was sending the tablets through Angadia Transport Service to Calcutta. Gopal Maheshwari was found to be dealing in these tablets on behalf of his relative H.P. Maheshwari of Kanpur.
Another associate of the gang was identified as Shri. Krishan Goel who runs an Industrial establishment, M/s. Lakshmi Metal Industries at Gandhi Nagar, Delhi 110 031. From this premises, 50 kgs. Of Methaqualone powder and 1,000 tablets (Mandrax) in loose form were found and seized. Goel was getting methaqualone powder from Dr. Sham lal of Ladwa and supplying the manufactured tablets to Gopal Maheshwari.
On 2.8.87 the NCB Calcutta was alerted by the N.C.B. Hqrs. New Delhi, to look for one J.P. Maheshwari and to intercept 3 packages containing these tablets, which were booked by train on 1.8.1987, through a courier service. The consignment was sent by one G.R. Newar. On 3.8.87, the search of J.P. Maheshwari did not yield any results. However, it came to light that one Sushil. K. Maheshwari brother of G.R. Newar was in existence. Through his help the address of G.R. Newar at Calcutta was gathered. However, G.R. Newar along with other members of his family had managed to leave that place, on 2.8.87.
The consignment booked from Delhi reached Calcutta on 5.8.87 and was allowed to be moved to the godown of the courier service M/s. Mahavir Transport Co. There the packages were opened and examined and found to contain 75,230 Prodorm tablets.
The Central Excise Officers searched the premises connected with H.P. Maheshwari of Kanpur, on 2.8.87. From his residence, 3 Kgs. of white powder, 30 gms of a white crystalline powder and 100 gms. Of a colored powder, all believed to be drugs were recovered. H.P. Maheshwari had gone underground.
Four other premises connected with Delhi – Kanpur Golden Transport Co. were searched between 3rd and 4th August’87. On 3.8.87, from the premises of the said transport firm at Transport Nagar, Kanpur, one parcel containing 35 packages each of 1,000 tablets marked Paracetamol (35,000 tablets) but actually containing methaqualone tablets were recovered and seized.
On the basis of further verification, on 4.8.87 from the same godown another 4 cartons containing 60 Kgs. Metaqualone tablets were seized. The consignor of these cartons was found to be M/s. S.K. Traders, Ghaziabad and the consignee shown as Medicine Chamber, Kanpur. The cartons contained a total of 201 packets containing 1,000 tablets each. One Om Prakash Soni who came to take delivery of the consignment was apprehended. He revealed that the real consignor was one Ashok Kumar Jaidka of Ghaziabad. He also revealed that he had come to collect the packages on behalf of M/s. R.N. Pharmaceuticals, Kanpur. The residential and business premises of M/s. R. N. Pharmaceuticals and their owner were searched on 4.8.87. During the search, one packet containing 41 tablets of methaqualone was found. Rubber stamps of “M/s. S.K. Traders, Partner” and “Medicine Chamber, Partner”, were also found and seized. One Nirankar Rastogi, Partner of M/s. R.N. Pharmaceuticals was arrested. From the personal custody of Soni, one transport voucher of Dhillon Transport Agency, Patna showing consignor as S.K. Traders, Noida and consignee as M/s. Gupta Medical Stores, Gaya, was recovered. This was communicated to the N.C.B. Hqrs. at New Delhi and to the Collector of Central Excise, Patna.
The Narcotics Control Bureau Hqrs., on receipt of the particulars of NOIDA, swung into action and located another factory manufacturing Methaqualone tablets run by one Tejinder Singh. The information about Tejinder Singh, was provided by Ashok Kumar Jaidka, who was getting these tablets manufactured on job work basis from Tejinder Singh and was dispatching them to Nirankar Rastogi and Om Prakash Soni of Kanpur.
On 5.8.87, one consignment lying with M/s. Delhi Kanpur Golden Transport, Noida, and booked by Tejinder Singh was seized and 50,000 Prodorm tablets were seized. The Transport Company further revealed that two more consignments had been dispatched by them to Kanpur the previous day. This information was flashed to Kanpur.
The NCB Officers, who were making efforts to trace the source of supply of such a large quantity of the active ingredient, viz., Methaqualone in pure form, ultimately found one J.R. Vyas of Delhi a broker in chemicals and drugs. His residence was searched on 6.8.87 and 25 Kgs. Of pure Methaqualone powder was seized. Another 125 Kgs. Of the power was found on his information with M/s. Shakti Highway Carriers, New Delhi. This consignment was to go to a person at Bombay. J.R. Vyas was also arrested.
On 5.8.87, on the basis of information received from the N.C.B. Hqrs., the Central Excise Officers, Kanpur, searched the premises of Delhi Kanpur Golden Transport Co., Transport Nagar, Kanpur and recovered 4 packages containing 50 Kgs of Methaqualone tablets with the brand name, `Prodorm’ and 20 Kgs of Methaqualone tablets, with the brand name, ”Nidra” (as indicated by the name of the manufacturer as printed on the strips, is Jagson Pal & Co., Faridabad). The consignees were Medicine Chamber in respect of the consignment sent by S.K. Traders, Ghaziabad and Shyam & Co., Kanpur in respect of the consignment sent by Mohan Medicos of Ghaziabad.
On 6.8.87 the Central Excise Officers, Kanpur, succeeded in arresting H.P. Maheshwari who was hiding in a village.
On the basis of information passed on by the Collector of Central Excise, Kanpur to the Collector of Customs & Central Excise, Patna, the Preventive Officers intercepted two consignments containing 25,000 tablets on 6.8.87 and 29,960 tablets on 8.8.87. These were sent by S.K. Traders, Noida to M/s. Gupta Medical Stores, Gaya. One Yogendra Prasad of village Amawa, P.S. Rajauli has been arrested.
On 6.8.87, another consignment carried by Indian Airlines from Gauhati to Imphal was seized at Imphal and this contained 38,399 tablets of Prodorm.
The searches lasted for about a fortnight and by that time about 20 persons were arrested. A few were absconding and efforts were being made to apprehend them.
Methaqualone is a mood-altering drug and is manufactured and sold under different brand names, such as ‘Mandrax’, ‘Prodorm’, etc. It is abused in a big way in the African Countries and each tablet can fetch anywhere upto 4 US dollars. Any number of Nigerian couriers were apprehended at Mumbai and New Delhi Airports.
This is one of those classical cases, where pursuing a small clue, led to locating the main sources from where the drugs were being despatched. Further, it shows the reach of the Drug Smuggling Syndicates, which can extend from one part of the country to the other.