In one of the biggest drug hauls in Maharashtra, the Thane Police seized 18.5 tonnes of banned drug Ephedrine, valued at Rs 2,000 crore, from the Solapur facility of a chemical-manufacturing firm. Four people, including the firm’s senior production manager, have been placed under arrest. The police claim the drug was being diverted for unauthorised sale in Thane city.
Ephedrine, the sale of which is banned in India, is popularly used overseas to treat asthma and bronchitis. While controlled dosage eases breathing, its abuse, popularly in the powder form, is known to cause euphoria, hallucinations, delusions, hypertension and nausea. It is synthesised to produce the popular narcotic Methamphetamine.
While its controlled manufacturing as a bulk drug for pharmaceutical use is legal in India, its retail sale as an OTC drug is, however, illegal. The drug bust began with the arrest of Nigerian national Sipren Chinassa by the Thane Police Crime Branch on April 10. Chinassa, who was caught smuggling 500 grams of Ephedrine in Kalyan, allegedly told the police that two days later, two men would arrive in Thane’s Vartak Nagar locality in two Maruti Swift cars with the intention of selling Ephedrine there. “Already three to four tonnes of Ephedrine have left the godown for illegal sale. We have alerted the police in Gujarat and Goa,” said Thane Police Commissioner Parambir Singh.
Elaborating on the drug bust, Singh said a trap was laid on April 12, and Suresh Povle (28) and Mayur Sukhdere (25) were arrested after being found in possession of 2 kg of Ephedrine. Povle, the police said, is a Std X dropout while Sukhdere hold a Bachelor of Arts degree.
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Chinassa, Povle and Sukhdere know each other, as they are allegedly street-level drug peddlers. Probed about the source of the drug, Povle and Sukhdere reportedly told the police that it had been supplied to them by a man living in Solapur.
In Solapur, the police caught a 28-year-old man called Dhaneshwar Swami, who works in the Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) campus. The police have seized 5.5 kg of Ephedrine from him.
During interrogation, Swami allegedly told the police that a large quantity of the drug was stored in the offices of Avon Lifesciences Limited, also located in MIDC. According to the police, 7.6 kg of Ephedrine was found stored in the cabin of Rajendra Dimri, the firm’s senior production manager.
Acting upon Swami’s information, the police then searched the godown and found 10,071.5 kg of Ephedrine and 8,541 kg of pseudo-ephedrine.
Hyderabad-based Avon Lifesciences Ltd is listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange and manufactures a range of pesticides, pharmaceuticals and dyes, according to its website. Incorporated in 1993 as Avon Organics Ltd, it changed to its present name in 2011.
Repeated phone calls made to its offices in Mumbai and Hyderabad seeking comment went unanswered.
“The Ephedrine we found was completely off the books. It was not mentioned in the company’s quarterly and half-yearly audits,” Singh said, adding, “There appears to be involvement of other persons in the company. We will interrogate more people.”
The godown has, for now, been sealed.
Meanwhile, the seizure in Solapur comes a day after the Gujarat Police on Friday raided a factory in the outskirts of Ahmedabad and seized 1,364 kg of Ephedrine worth Rs 270 crore. The Thane police, however, said the illegal sale wasn’t restricted just to state borders. “Ephedrine was being supplied internationally, possibly to Eastern Europe,” Singh said.
In Thane, one gram of Ephedrine sells for Rs 2,500 and Rs 4,000. At times, police said, drug peddlers also disguise Ephedrine as mephedrone and even cocaine.