The Sunday Story: Meow-Meow and Babyhttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/the-sunday-story-meow-meow-and-baby/

The Sunday Story: Meow-Meow and Baby

With 8 out of 10 addicts in Mumbai now on this cheap party drug, and its own constable in the ring, a 100-member police team is hunting for one 54-year-old woman.

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For over a month now, a 100-strong team of Mumbai Police personnel has been looking for Shashikala across Worli, Kamothe and Khandala around Mumbai; Surat in Gujarat; and Agra and Delhi. Without success.

With 8 out of 10 addicts in Mumbai now on this cheap party drug, and its own constable in the ring, a 100-member police team is hunting for one 54-year-old woman.

A shaken Dipti Patankar walks out of Marine Drive police station in Mumbai after yet another round of grilling, and makes a frantic phone call. “Agar police ne Baby ko jaldi nahin pakda, to hum sab ki vaat lag jayegi (If the police don’t catch Baby quickly, we’ll all be in trouble),” she tells the person on the other end.

“Baby” is Dipti’s 54-year-old mother-in-law Shashikala Patankar. For over a month now, a 100-strong team of Mumbai Police personnel has been looking for her across Worli, Kamothe and Khandala around Mumbai; Surat in Gujarat; and Agra and Delhi. Without success.

To those who know Shashikala, that comes as no surprise. Mumbai’s narcotics officers call her the “the city’s largest meow-meow peddler”. Meow-meow is the street name of mephedrone, one of the most popular party drugs in the market.

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It’s now 30 years that Shashikala has allegedly been in the drug trade. In all this time that police of both Mumbai and Satara have been waiting for her to trip, she has been arrested just once, in 2001. She was soon released on bail.

This time though, there is a difference.

On March 9, a police team seized 114 kg of mephedrone — among its biggest ever seizures of the drug — from the Satara home of constable Dharmaraj Kalokhe (52), attached with the intelligence wing of the Marine Drive police station. Kalokhe claimed that the haul, worth Rs 22.40 crore, belonged to a Customs official and was given to him by Shashikala for safekeeping. Next day, another 12 kg of mephedrone was recovered from Kalokhe’s cupboard at the police station, leading to his dismissal.

With one of its own caught in the drug ring, and with signs that more names could tumble out, police have gone after Shashikala.

There is another reason. The Mumbai Police estimates that eight out of every 10 drug addicts being treated at rehabilitation centres in Mumbai now are users of mephedrone. Police peg the number of its users in the city at 1.2-1.4 lakh.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis wrote to the Centre in December 2014 seeking that the drug be added to the list of controlled substances under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, and this was done finally in February 2015. Under the Act, possessing a commercial quantity of the drug (exceeding 50 grams) is punishable with imprisonment between 10 years and 20 years and a fine of up to Rs 2 lakh.

Police are also probing the role of another lower-rung police officer for allegedly helping Shashikala escape. As for the Customs official named by Kolakhe, a ‘Suryavanshi’, officials say they have found nobody by that name.

Since Shashikala fled, her sons Satish and Girish have also gone missing. “We are tapping all their phones. There is enormous pressure from the top,” an officer with the Marine Drive police station involved in the hunt says.

***

Born Shashikala Mazgaonkar, the only girl and the youngest of six siblings, she was nicknamed ‘Baby’ at an early age. Until 1985, she made a living selling milk bottles in the Siddharth Nagar slum in Worli, South Mumbai, while her brothers worked as drivers.

According to her nephew Manish Mazgaonkar (35), that year Shashikala met a local drug peddler. “She realised selling drugs would earn her a lot more.”

Mazgaonkar and his brother, Vivek, have filed a case against Shashikala accusing her of burning their mother to death in April 1993. “We used to live close by. Our mother objected to Shashikala using our home as a warehouse for drugs, so she killed her,” he says.

Narcotics officers, however, say Mazgaonkar’s mother’s murder was a fallout of rivalry.

For the past few years, the Mazgaonkar brothers have been training in law. Recently, Manish wrote to Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria to have the case re-examined and have Shashikala booked for murder.

Mazgaonkar says Shashikala was married once to Ramesh Patankar, who also lived in Siddharth Nagar. They separated later, and Shashikala moved into a house perched on the top of a hillock in the same slum, with her sons.

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The Siddharth Nagar slum in Worli. It’s from atop a hillock here that she allegedly ran her drug network for 30 years.

***

According to officials, Shashikala began dealing in hashish and brown sugar from this very home. She handled small stuff and remained largely under the radar. During the ’80s and ’90s she gradually expanded her business. Officials admit that turning a police informer helped her gain clout.

One official gives instance of a case from around two years ago when Baby’s niece went missing. He says police received a call from a local politician to ensure the girl was traced, and they did so within a fortnight.

In the last year or so, say officials, Shashikala switched to mephedrone. Meow-meow is available more easily than other addictive drugs, is cheaper and, most importantly, till February 2015, was not covered under the NDPS.

Police talk of mephedrone and Shashikala’s name cropping up as they made arrests related to drug seizures in the city, especially in Vasai and Virar, and the western and northern suburbs. Based on the “admissions”, police as well as the Anti Narcotics Cell raided her Siddharth Nagar home several times, but without success.

Mazgaonkar says police never really took on Shashikala seriously. “They would come to Siddharth Nagar to arrest her. But as they started climbing the hillock, someone down below, where the road began, would alert Shashikala. By the time they reached her home, she would have given them the slip or sent the drugs away,” he says.

It was during one such raid in 1996 that Kalokhe, then posted with the Worli police station, met Patankar. He had joined the police force nine years earlier, in 1987.

***

While police say only Shashikala can tell them where she sourced her drugs from, her “buyers” were mostly based in Worli. Officials also claim her sons and daughters-in-law helped transport the drugs and admit she must have had police help.

According to a senior Crime Branch official, “She would get Kalokhe to store the drugs in his bag. Kalokhe always used an official vehicle, and since these are never searched during nakabandis, Shashikala’s drugs wouldn’t get caught.”

Kalokhe has told the police about drugs also being ferried on buses, including by himself.

According to the police, Shashikala now owns 10 rooms collectively worth Rs 2 crore in Siddharth Nagar, a row of houses valued at about Rs 50 lakh near Gorai beach in North Mumbai, a bungalow in Lonavala, a home in Ghorpadi on Pune’s outskirts, a fleet of cars, a scooter and a motorcycle. Police also claim she has at least three bank accounts with at least Rs 40 lakh in each. Police have moved court to have all her assets seized and her and her family’s bank accounts frozen.

Officers who have been tracking her say Shashikala earlier invested in gold, telling her aides, “Gold investment hi bure waqt mein kaam aayega (Only gold comes of use in bad times)”. It was later that she realised the potential of investing in real estate.

Apart from that one arrest — by the Anti Narcotics Cell in 2001 on charges of drugs possession — Shashikala was booked by the Worli police on December 30, 2014, and by the Manickpur police in Vasai in January 2015. In both cases, she secured anticipatory bail.

“Before the December 30 raid, someone tipped her off. Neither she nor any drugs were found. On December 30, we went with women cops and managed to arrest her daughter-in-law, Sarika, and nephew, Upendra Mazgaonkar,” says Inspector Diwakar Shelke of the Anti Narcotics Cell’s Worli unit. Shashikala still gave them the slip.

Advocate Naveen Chomal and his partner Jayesh Wani secured anticipatory bail for Shashikala in the January 2015 case. She had been named as a supplier of mephedrone by a drug peddler named Pepe. Chomal says he is no longer in touch with Shashikala. “After she got bail, I had no further communication with her,” he says.

Chomal, who is now representing Kalokhe, doesn’t believe police will have much luck in the current case either.

Still, the arrests of Sarika and Upendra seem to have rattled Shashikala. Her Siddharth Nagar home has been locked since.

***

The first lead since her disappearance had come from Girish’s call data records. His phone was zeroed down to near a mobile tower in Kamothe, a satellite township around 30 minutes from Mumbai. Police found he made numerous calls to a number there.

After sustained grilling, the woman who lived at the address admitted that Shashikala and son Girish had come to her house, and later travelled to Surat and Delhi along with her other son Satish. Two Mumbai Police teams were dispatched to Surat and Delhi on the next available flights. Both teams reached a dead end.

Kalokhe, who has been with the Marine Drive police station for the past five years, and lives at the Grant Road police quarters with his wife and children, has admitted to travelling all over the state with Shashikala in their nearly decade-long association.

At the end of February, he sought a 10-day leave saying he wanted to visit his ailing mother. However, he has confessed, he first travelled to Mahabaleshwar, followed by Goa, Ratnagiri and Khandala. He came to Kanheri, his native village in Satara’s Khandala district, only on the morning of March 9. He arrived with a lot of luggage and asked his neighbour, Jagannath Pawar, to keep it for some days.

As he got up to leave, Pawar told police, Kalokhe pressed a Rs 1,000 note into his hand. “Buy a cupboard and put my stuff inside it,” he is believed to have told Pawar.

Just then, a team of undercover officers kicked his front door open. Among Kolakhe’s luggage were found packets of a white crystalline powder later identified as mephedrone. He was put under arrest.

Kalokhe’s neighbour Ashok Gadhe claims to have seen a woman often visit his house, among the larger ones in the village. “She would arrive in a car, with a handkerchief over her face, hand over some packages and leave,” Gadhe says. “Dada (Kalokhe) himself often arrived unannounced.”

Shashikala was in Khandala when the Satara police arrested Kalokhe. A senior Mumbai Police officer says he wouldn’t be surprised if the arrest was the result of a tip-off from her. “Shashikala had given Kalokhe mephedrone for safekeeping. It seems Kalokhe decided to keep the drugs to sell it,” the officer adds.

Kalokhe’s lawyer Chomal claims he is no more than small fish. “We suspect that senior Customs officials as well as police officers are involved and Kalokhe is being made a scapegoat,” he says.

***

Since the constable’s arrest, the Mumbai Police top brass has transferred Pravin Chinchalkar, the senior inspector at the Marine Drive police station. The Mumbai Police has also announced it will conduct surprise checks of police stations in south Mumbai.

At the Marine Drive police station and Crime Branch, officers talk about how Kalokhe was “plain unlucky” and that Shashikala’s ties with the police were “no secret”.

A Crime Branch officer talks about how she led them to tainted senior inspector Ashok Dhavale in February 2011. “She informed police that Dhavale was peddling brown sugar, and posed as a decoy customer to help trap him,” a Crime Branch officer says.

A retired inspector who served in the Anti Narcotics Cell in the early 2000s calls Patankar a soft-spoken woman who can be charming with those she wants to impress, but fiercely vindictive towards those who she believes have cheated her. That’s how both Kolakhe and Dhavale fell foul of her, he adds.

“She was very close to Dhavale. They travelled together to factories where brown sugar was produced. Dhavale made a lot of money working with her. But in 2011, it appears, he did not pay her a share of the profits during one particular deal. She tipped off the police,” the retired inspector says.

Mephedrone vs Other drugs

Snorted drugs:

1 kg of meow-meow: Rs 20 lakh

1 kg of heroin: Rs 1 crore

1 kg of cocaine: Rs 40 lakh

Swallowed drugs: 

Ecstasy: Rs 1,000-1,500 per tablet

Biggest seizure of mephedrone in Maharashtra, so far, was on March 15, when the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence seized 450 kg from four men on the Mumbai-Pune Expressway.

What is MD?

A mixture of several chemicals and believed to be concocted in small laboratories, mephedrone resembles cocaine but is much cheaper, selling for as little as Rs 150 per gram. The most easily available drug in the city, partly because of its low price, it is the single biggest challenge for the Mumbai Anti Narcotics Cell.

Mumbai’s other known drug lords

Express Opinion

* Kamli, 40, was part of a large group that peddled brown sugar in Ballard Estate in South Mumbai in the 1990s. She eluded the police easily, slipping away into the slum’s narrow lanes. After she died of unknown causes in the late 1990s, her daughter allegedly took over the reins

* Papamani Iyengar was active for several years in the slums of Mumbai’s eastern suburbs. She slept in a different slum each night and managed to escape police till she operated. She is believed to have moved to Tamil Nadu in 1999

* In the 1990s, Bakul Shah was said to have been a prominent peddler of methaqualone (brand name Quaalude in the US and Mandrax in the UK). He allegedly procured the drug from factories in Pune and distributed it widely in Mumbai, apart from exporting overseas. He was convicted in the mid-1990s.

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* The strapping Noor Mohammad Pathan alias Nari Khan was the most prominent peddler of brown sugar in Mumbai in the 1990s. An Afghan who moved to India, Pathan was arrested at least seven times, including once with 452 kg of brown sugar. He once escaped from police custody in Mumbai and managed to secure bail from the Supreme Court. He was killed in a police encounter in Vikhroli in 1996.

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