Pathankot’s Drug Racket: Punjab May Yet Become Another Mexico

NIA’s questionnaire must include queries on the shrine SP Salwinder Singh visited and Kolian village.

Updated
India
6 min read
Gurdaspur SP Salwinder Singh (right) in the company of Sucha Singh Langah, a minister in the cabinet of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, at a dargah. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)
Snapshot
  • Many in the Punjab Police owe their careers and wealth to proximity to politicians and profitable statewide narcotics racket.
  • Salwinder Singh was able to worm his way into the good books of senior Akali Dal minister Sucha Singh Langah.
  • Across Punjab there is silence on the alleged involvement of at least six key ministers in the Parkash Singh Badal cabinet.
  • NIA’s questionnaire must include queries on the shrine SP Salwinder Singh visited and Kolian village – locations which are integral to the cross-border drugs trade in Pathankot.

There are many Salwinder Singhs in the Punjab Police. Most owe their careers and wealth either to their proximity to politicians or the profitable statewide narcotics racket, though the latter is sinisterly bound up with Pakistan-inspired terrorism.

The Punjab Police is reluctant to delve too deep into the Pathankot terror attack in which Gurdaspur Superintendent of Police Salwinder Singh may had a role to play.

The farmhouse of Punjab cabinet  minister Sucha Singh Langah in Toor village of Pathankot, where Gurdaspur SP Salwinder Singh was a frequent visitor. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)
The farmhouse of Punjab cabinet minister Sucha Singh Langah in Toor village of Pathankot, where Gurdaspur SP Salwinder Singh was a frequent visitor. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

The police’s reticence to probe Salwinder stems from its practice to let sleeping dogs lie. Any serious investigation by the police will open up a can of worms and expose the deep politician-police nexus, closely associated with narco-terrorism.

Salwinder Singh was able to worm his way into the good books of senior Akali Dal minister Sucha Singh Langah. Both have been photographed together in several private gatherings. It is said that Salwinder was a frequent visitor to Langah’s farmhouse in Toor village, very close to the riverine border area in Pathankot.

A BSF-regulated de-addiction centre in Bamial, Pathankot, on the India-Pakistan border where drug smuggling is rife. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)
A BSF-regulated de-addiction centre in Bamial, Pathankot, on the India-Pakistan border where drug smuggling is rife. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)

A ‘top secret’ document prepared by former Additional Director General of Police (intelligence) Shashi Kant lists the names of more than 80 subordinate and mid-level officers who are suspected to be in cahoots with the cross-border drug mafia, which in turn has its tentacles among Punjab’s politicians, both in the Akali Dal and the Congress.

Former Punjab Police Additional  Director-General of Police (Intelligence) Shashi Kant who has taken on the drug mafia, at his Chandigarh residence. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)
Former Punjab Police Additional Director-General of Police (Intelligence) Shashi Kant who has taken on the drug mafia, at his Chandigarh residence. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)

‘Punjab Is Yet to Become Another Mexico’

Two years ago, Shashi Kant, who led a lone battle against these well-entrenched interests, submitted the highly sensitive document to the Punjab and Haryana High Court which is now adjudicating the case, though progress has been excruciatingly slow. “The extent and magnitude of the racket is deep and wide, though Punjab is yet to become another Mexico,” Shashi Kant said. He suspects that Salwinder, like the other police officers he has named in his report, was an “asset” for the narcotics mafia that operates in Punjab and Pakistan.

Across Punjab, save for a handful of intrepid Congressmen, silence prevails about the alleged involvement of at least six key ministers in the Parkash Singh Badal cabinet.

It is alleged that at the apex of the drugs trade, which is international in its scope (some variants of synthetic drugs such as the odourless and therefore undetectable “ice” are shipped out of India), is Bikram Singh Majithia, brother-in-law of Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.

Last year, the busting of a narcotics smuggling gang led by a retired Deputy SP Jagdish Bhola revealed the extent of the racket. According to Shashi Kant, Bhola, who is now lodged in Nabha jail, named Majithia during interrogation. But no further police action followed.

Majithia is state revenue, rehabilitation and disaster management, non-conventional energy and public relations minister in Badal senior’s cabinet. “He is the kingpin,” said Congress leader Lali Majithia who contested against Bikram Majithia twice but lost on both occasions. “But he is not the only one. There are others in the state cabinet who position their favoured police officers in key border districts where cross-border drugs smuggling is rife,” Lali Majithia said.

A riverine tract of the India-Pakistan border in Toor village of  Pathankot. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)
A riverine tract of the India-Pakistan border in Toor village of Pathankot. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)

Badal Govt Impervious to Allegations, Denies Them

The narco-terrorism issue has figured in the Assembly several times but the Badal government has thus far remained impervious to serious allegations against Bikram Majithia.

Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal (left) and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. (Photo: PTI)
Deputy CM Sukhbir Badal (left) and Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal. (Photo: PTI)

Last month, Sukhbir Singh Badal defended his brother-in-law, saying Majithia was facing the repercussion of taking on drug gangs. Speaking at an Idea Exchange programme at The Indian Express in December 2015, Badal referred to Jagdish Bhola’s alleged revelation saying,

Who do you trust more? A criminal or a government? We bust a drug gang, one of those arrested accuses a minister and everybody believes him… nobody is talking about the good work we did in busting the gang.

That person is a known hardcore criminal. It was only six-eight months after his arrest that he gave this statement accusing the minister (Majithia). Now political parties are taking advantage of a criminal’s statement.

Sukhbir Singh Badal

Badal also gave assurances that “action would be taken if the charges against Majithia are proved.”

Toor, Chebbe, Lahsain and Bharial are among some of the villages close to Bamial, Thakurpur, Nikka and Mamiyan, where the confluence of the fast-running Ravi and Ujj rivers render it impossible to put up fences on the border. Drug smugglers take advantage of this. It is in the riverine, unfenced stretches of the border that the bulk of the drugs are transported, using ingenious means.

Also read the first part of Chandan Nandy’s coverage of the Pathankot attacks:
Pathankot Attack: The Route SP Salwinder Took Could Blow His Alibi

The confluence  of the Ravi and Ujj rivers. Upstream, there are several points on the international border which are unfenced and are used by narcotics smugglers. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)
The confluence of the Ravi and Ujj rivers. Upstream, there are several points on the international border which are unfenced and are used by narcotics smugglers. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)

Ingenious, Innovative Packaging

Packets of drugs are stuffed into the tubes of tractor tyres and filled with air before they are hurled into the rivers and tributaries in Pakistan that criss-cross their way into India. Once the tyres cross India, specialised divers swim underwater and guide the “consignments”, usually in packets of 500 grams, to safety.

On other occasions, packets of drugs, mostly cocaine and heroin, popular by the brand name tinna, are filled into PVC pipes and are thrust through the fencing. They slide down smoothly and are then gathered by couriers, usually borderland residents, who hand over the packets to mafia agents, who work silently, with the full knowledge of the police.

“The Pathankot border is considered to be low-key and therefore the safest. It is for this reason that it was used this time around by the terrorists for a major operation,” says Shashi Kant, who, by his own admission, has worked undercover as a driver in the Indian embassy in Islamabad in the late 90s.

Disused Indian army  bunkers close to the India-Pakistan border in Pathankot. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)
Disused Indian army bunkers close to the India-Pakistan border in Pathankot. (Photo: Chandan Nandy)

If The NIA Has Done Its Homework...

It is not just Punjab Police officers who work in shadowy ways to “protect” and further the drugs trade. Several Border Security Force jawans and lower-rank officers too have been found – and subsequently arrested – for their involvement narcotics smuggling.

At least three to four BSF conmandants remain lodged in Patialia jail for conniving with drug smugglers.

As the Gurdaspur SP prepares to submit himself to an NIA-conducted polygraph test in Delhi on Monday, what will be uppermost in his mind will be to remain calm about his suspicious activities on the night of 31 December and his benefactor politicians.

But, if the NIA has done its homework, its questionnaire must include queries on the shrine that he visited on 31 December and Kolian village – locations which are integral to the cross-border drugs trade in Pathankot.

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