ON THE face of it, the arrest of an alleged drug supplier two weeks ago appears to be the perfect example of residents and police working together to “clean up” the city.
A residents’ group, bent upon tackling the drug menace, claims to have put itself at risk by putting together a list of drug distributors, suppliers and peddlers active in the city. The group then handed the list over to police, demanding action. But the events leading to Nilofar Shaikh’s arrest for the first time in her 15-year career, dealing narcotics, has shown that things were not as straightforward. It began in April when the Investors and Consumer Guidance Society, an organisation based in Bandra Kurla Complex and headed by advocate Pradeep Nambiar and journalist Rajiv Kunwar Bajaj, e-mailed a list containing 144 names to the Mumbai Police.
“We first took that list to the Anti Narcotics Cell (ANC), but they did not seem interested in acting upon that information. So we held a morcha at Azad Maidan in May to demand that the Mumbai Police do something about the easy availability of drugs, which is destroying the health of youngsters,” said Nambiar.
This was followed by meetings with Mumbai Police Commissioner Sanjeev Barve and Joint Commissioner (Law and Order) Vinay Choubey.
Choubey subsequently sent instructions to the ANC and police stations to look into the list. But while the merits of the list did not appeal to the ANC, which took offence at being told by civilians on how best to perform their jobs, its contents did.
“Some of the names on the list were of top drug distributors like Kailash Rajput, who is wanted by the central agencies and isn’t even in India. The rest of the list did not contain any actionable intelligence,” an ANC official said.
However, senior crime branch officials did marvel at the how accurately the residents’ society had managed to map individual suppliers and peddlers by the areas they operated in.
“We had not expected civilians to have access to such detailed information, which can only be gathered from the field,” a crime branch official said. A little probing showed that Shaikh was one of the persons who had contributed to the making of the list. “She had given out names of peddlers in Bandra and Mahim who did not work under her, hopeful that they will be caught,” the official said. Digging into Shaikh’s activities, police further found that she had managed to evade arrest for more than 15 years despite establishing sole control over the supply of charas, ganja, mephedrone and, occasionally, heroin in Bandra and Mahim. On June 18, Assistant Police Inspectors Sudarshan Chavan and Amar Marathe of the ANC caught Shaikh at the Fishermen’s Colony in Mahim, allegedly in possession of 59 gm heroin valued at Rs 5.8 lakh and 360 gm mephedrone worth Rs 12.24 lakh.
Subsequent investigations have showed that over the years, Shaikh had developed into a reliable informer for local police. “She would insist that local peddlers take their supply only from her and not work for rival suppliers. She would give up those who did not listen to her. This ensured that action was never taken against her,” the ANC said.
Shaikh (44), a resident of a slum colony in Bandra (West), began working as a peddler for a local drug supplier after her husband’s death nearly 20 years ago. Her rise as a supplier of local prominence two years ago has led police to compare her with Shashikala “Baby” Patankar, a supplier who was in the limelight in 2015 when police seized 114 kg of a substance that was initially suspected to be mephedrone but later found out to be a food additive called ajinomoto. Her arrest led to the dismissal of Constable Dharmaraj Kalokhe, her alleged co-accused, and a lot of embarrassment for the police in Satara and Mumbai.
“Shaikh has a lot of relatives living close by in Bandra (West) at whose homes she stores drugs in case of a police search at her home. But she says, in return, her relatives have taken a lot of money from her to build homes and for other expenses,” an ANC official said.
With the combination of a sharp business sense and timely threats to those lower in the food chain, Shaikh is alleged to have created a monopoly over supply. Some cops have compared her to Patankar’s rise as a “slumlord” in Siddharth Nagar in Worli over several decades. Her arrest though has temporarily made drugs scarce in Bandra and Mahim, the ANC said. The action has convinced Nambiar that his efforts behind compiling the list are paying off. The police in Bandra said Nambiar says in the last two months, between 10 and 12 peddlers named in his list have been arrested.
“We spoke to drug suppliers in every part of the city and asked them for names of peddlers. What we found was that rival suppliers in a particular area would give us names of peddlers working for their competitors. That’s how we got so many names. The fact that Nilofar Shaikh was arrested means that police is acting on our list,” Nambiar said.