THERE are drug cartels, drug mules and now — as the Rajasthan police found out recently — drug buses.
Taken on hire from a private operator, one such bus was stopped on the road from Jodhpur to Hanumangarh in northern Rajasthan in the early hours of July 21 with 55 passengers, including 10 women, and allegedly 144 kg of poppy husk, apart from the driver and conductor. All are under arrest.
During interrogation, police found that each passenger had availed of a “drug package” costing Rs 3,500-4,000 per person, including 1 kg of poppy husk, meals, the day’s dose of drugs and a free pick-up and ride back to their destinations.
Of the 57 arrested, 55 were carrying poppy husk, police claimed, adding that 53 were from Punjab of whom 45 were addicts. Police said 26 were from various villages in Mukatsar, 16 from Bathinda and the rest from Moga, Faridkot, Sangrur, Barnala and Ferozepur districts.
“After the arrests, we had to call a doctor as many of them were in a bad shape without their daily dose,” said Bhanwar Lal, investigating officer in the case, from Pilibanga police station.
Police alleged that those arrested admitted to hiring the bus to purchase drugs from various locations in Rajasthan, including Philaudi, Bhap and Nagaur in Jodhpur, and other places in Bikaner.
On April 1, the Rajasthan government had shut down its official poppy husk vends on orders issued by the High Court.
”The accused told us that two buses run on this route daily after 9 pm, picking up passengers from Philaudi, Bhap, Nagaur and Bikaner on a daily basis. People from Punjab, who reach Rajasthan to purchase drugs, wait at select locations to board. On a daily basis, around 150-200 passengers are ferried,” a police officer alleged.
Speaking to The Indian Express at the Pilibanga station, Jagsir Singh, 57, one of those arrested, said: “Saadi nashe di rishtedari hai, hor koi connection nahin (We have a drug relationship, there is no other connection).”
Jagsir was among seven initially remanded in police custody to help identify the source of drugs. On Monday, they were produced in a local court and remanded to judicial custody, like the rest of those caught on the bus, until August 5. Among those seven was Angrej Singh from Kandukhera village in Lambi, the assembly constituency of Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal.
Another accused Prem Kumar, from Dabwali, admitted that he was an addict. “I purchased 1 kg of poppy husk for Rs 2,500 from the Bhap area in Jodhpur, where they also gave us food, tea and a daily dose as part of a package deal. Usually, we reach Bhap early in the morning and return late on the same night on a bus that is hired for many like us. They (drug suppliers) even arrange conveyance to pick us up from the railway station or bus stands, give us the drugs and drop us back on the main road from where we get on this bus and reach our destinations. Everything is part of a package deal from Bhap,” said Kumar.
Jagsir, from Ferozepur, said he has been an addict for over two decades.
”Visiting Rajasthan for buying 1.5-2 kg poppy husk every month has been a routine. I spend around Rs 3,500-4,000, including Rs 600-700 for travelling expenses, for my monthly quota of poppy husk. This time, I got unlucky. After getting bail, I will visit Rajasthan again to get poppy husk, but I will be more careful,” he said.
Jagsir said he had boarded a train from Bathinda to reach Bikaner before being caught. “I often meet over 200 such passengers who travel from Punjab to Rajasthan for getting poppy husk and return in private buses. Two buses run from Jodhpur to Hanumangarh on the night route. Tickets vary from Rs 350-Rs 500 per person. The passengers have a common connection — poppy husk,” he said.