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Thursday, March 04, 2021

‘We target everyone who violates NDPS Act’

Since the narcotics case linked to the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput was transferred to the NCB and officer Sameer Wankhede was made in-charge of the Mumbai Zonal Unit in September 2020, the agency has registered 40 cases. Among those named are actors, relatives of politicians and others linked to the underworld. In an interview, Wankhede speaks to Mohamed Thaver

Written by Mohamed Thaver | Mumbai |
Updated: January 31, 2021 8:42:56 pm
Sameer Wankhede NDPS ActNCB Mumbai Zonal Director Sameer Wankhede

What is the update on the narcotics case linked to actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death?

The matter is sub-judice, so I cannot comment much. My team is working overtime to submit the chargesheet in the stipulated time. As of now, there are 29 accused in the case, including Rhea Chakraborty.

A lot of people, including actress like Sara Ali Khan, had been called in for questioning. Did you find their involvement?

Whatever evidence we have found, we will produce that in the court…if anybody has been in violation of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS), 1985, it will be there in the chargesheet.

While granting bail to Chakraborty, the Bombay High Court in its order said she had been wrongly charged under Section 27A of the NDPS Act, 1985, that stands for financing illicit traffic and harbouring offenders. Do you see that as a setback?

The matter is sub-judice, we cannot speak on that.

There has been a criticism that NCB, which is supposed to go after big sharks and huge quantities, is prosecuting even narcotics users and cases that involve small quantities. How do you respond to that?

We have done everything. You see our record, we have drugs varying from cocaine to ganja…we have busted labs and factories. We have dismantled these suppliers and manufacturers mostly. Regarding consumers, is consuming legal in the country? So what if you see someone consuming narcotics? There is Section 27 of the NDPS Act, 1985, (section related to narcotics consumption). Anybody violating the act, we are taking action, be it the manufacturer, the factory guy, the peddler or the consumer. When the law is prohibiting it, how can we legalise it and allow its use? Secondly, in order to attack the drug menace, we need to have a consolidated approach, target each and every evader. Now there is awareness, everybody knows drug consumption is a crime. We have a strategy to target everyone who is violating the NDPS Act, 1985. You need to have a holistic approach to have an effect.

But is it the NCB’s mandate to go after minor users?

Our mandate is to book and punish people who are violating the NDPS Act, 1985, and we are doing that.

There was also a feeling that the NCB was focusing on Bollywood.

The impression has been created since we had called in some actors for questioning and it was reported by the media widely. Even now, I can show you we have around 10 people in the office who have been called in for questioning based on leads like chats being found but it will not be reported in the media.We got a lead from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) about some incriminating chats (in Rhea’s case). If we find such chats, we will call in people for questioning irrespective of who they are. Of the 100 or so people, we have arrested only 25, linked to the Sushant Singh case. But no one is interested in reading about a ganja supplier we arrested with 7kg recently.

In the four months under your watch, the NCB Mumbai Zonal Unit (MZU) has registered 40 cases until now. What are the trends you have seen when it comes to narcotics use in the city?

In Mumbai, we have seen five to six prevalent drugs like cocaine, mephedrone or MD, LSD, charas, marijuana/weed/ganja and heroin. I would rate MD as the top drug in terms of demand as it gives the same kick as cocaine and while 1gm of cocaine costs a lot, MD is a cheap drug which any college-going kid or anyone, who is not from a good economic class, can afford, and it is easily available.

In the seizures that you have made, in several cases the narcotics is marijuana related and especially bud.

Yes, another trend we have seen is that ganja was the traditionally-consumed drug in the country but did not have much demand in Mumbai earlier. Now we are seeing a resurgence due to a couple of reasons. One is that people think that charas and ganja – being naturally grown – have all kinds of health benefits, which is wrong. Since this is not chemical, they think it is the right thing. It is a socially accepted norm in some societies. Bud is the premature growth of marijuana. It is at a nascent stage that people prefer as they think it is purer. Bud is expensive and it is being imported from foreign countries, we have seen this trend. It is like cocaine that only high-class people can afford. In some foreign countries like Canada, it is legal and so in some American states where they are growing some different strains of marijuana, but here it is illegal. They are importing it illegally and charging a bomb for it. Western suburbs of Bandra and Khar have a huge clientele for bud. In slums and other pockets, ganja remains but apart from that bud has caught on.

In several cases the dark web has been used to order drugs more frequently than in the past.

Now it has become prevalent. In a recent case, commercial quantity of LSD was found with five youngsters aged between 20 and 25. They think it is more secure as you cannot intercept the sender. These people use proxy servers. To find the real supplier is difficult. Payment is made through bitcoins, anonymity is maintained, so they think our focus is not on them. But our focus is definitely on them. It is increasing which is a dangerous sign especially among college students.

Since you have taken over, you have booked cases involving film stars, politicians and recently those with underworld links. Which has been the most satisfying case for you?

Busting modules, busting peddlers and suppliers have been satisfying. The recent one at Dongri, where we seized 12kg of drugs right in the city, and catching these mafia dons…that case was very satisfying. We caught major suppliers. The second was a factory we busted in Vasai where we caught three people and seized big amount of drugs. Busting modules, run by Sultan Mirza, Anuj Keshwani, Karanjeet Singh, has been very satisfying for me.

The Supreme Court in the Toofan Singh vs State of Tamil Nadu judgment in October said NCB officials are also police officers and hence statements made before them by accused are not admissible as evidence. Will it impact NCB convictions?

It won’t affect us. We don’t only rely on statements. We corroborate that statement and have digital, electronic and other kinds of evidence. While a statement has an integral part of our probe, even before Toofan Singh, we relied on corroborative evidence.

What a completely packed schedule…what do you do to unwind?

To be truthful, for the past six months I have not taken even a Sunday off and these six months have been challenging. Before joining the NCB, I loved watching Netflix shows like Viking, Narcos…I was highly impressed by the undercover police of Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in Narcos. I love Hollywood movies and action and good historical series on Netflix.

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