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Gujarat drug seizure case likely to go to NIA

DRI recently seized almost 3000 kg of heroin that was originally shipped from Afghanistan and its market value is pegged at around ₹ 21000 crore

The Central government may enlist the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for undertaking a comprehensive probe into the country’s largest drug seizure by the Department of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) at Mundra Port in Gujarat.

The DRI recently seized almost 3000 kg of heroin that was originally shipped from Afghanistan and its market value is pegged at around ₹ 21000 crore. After the seizure, the probe was widened to Andhra Pradesh, as one Vijaywada-based couple had imported the consignment; Tamil Nadu; Gujarat and other places. Such large-scale smuggling of the expensive drugs via sea route in the country has stunned the Union government.

The seizure is also said to be one of the largest in the world.

Now, The Hindu has reliably learnt that the Centre is contemplating to rope in the NIA to probe the case, as terror forces from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran are involved in the smuggling of banned substances in the country.

“It will probably go to the NIA,” a senior official told The Hindu, adding only a federal agency could probe the case since it involved multiple States and also stakeholders.

Earlier, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) said it would also join the probe and lodge a case for money laundering in the matter. Both the DRI and the ED are the Finance Ministry wings, while the NIA functions under the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Gujarat’s Anti Terrorist Squad (ATS), which has been actively busting the drug mafias who try to smuggle in the drugs via the sea route off Gujarat coast, has also begun collecting details of the seizure at the Mundra Port and people involved in its import and arranging its logistics.

One Aashi Trading Company has been identified as the importer firm and is alleged to be run by M. Sudhakar and his wife, G. Durga Purna Vaishali, both arrested and currently under the DRI custody in Kutch.

The couple was arrested from Chennai after the consignment was seized and they were brought to Kutch where a local court granted 10 days custody of the two to the DRI.

Adani’s statement

Meanwhile, when contacted, officials at Adani Group, which operates the Mundra Port, stated that their role was limited to port operations and they were not empowered to inspect or check the cargo that was shipped or arrive at the port terminal. Secondly, the terminal where the cargo landed at the port was also not operated by the Adani Group, which has leased out terminals to other private players.

“The law empowers the Government of India’s competent authorities such as the Customs and the DRI to open, examine and seize unlawful cargo. No port operator across the country can examine a container. Their role is limited to running the port,” the group said in a statement.

The group, which operates ports and airports across the country, condemned the attempts to drag their name in the controversy. “Through malicious, motivated and false propaganda on social media, some vested interests are trying to drag our name in the whole controversy,” a top official of the group told The Hindu.

Preferred route for drug smuggling

In the last few years, the Gujarat coast has emerged as the preferred route for drug smuggling as the ATS and Indian Coast Guard have intercepted Pakistani and Iranian boats loaded with contraband drugs.

On Sunday, an Iranian fishing boat with seven crew members was caught with possession of 30 kg heroin when they entered the Indian territorial waters off the Gujarat coast

In April last, eight Pakistani nationals onboard a boat were apprehended with heroin worth around ₹ 150 crore off the Gujarat coast in the Arabian Sea.

In January last year, five Pakistani nationals onboard a fishing boat were apprehended mid-sea off the Gujarat coast while they were allegedly trying to smuggle drugs worth ₹ 175 crore into the State.

As many as 35 packets of heroin, each weighing 1 kg, were seized from the five men near Jakhau coast in Kutch district.

Similarly, in July 2017, in one of the biggest drugs haul, a Coast Guard ship seized 1,500 kg of heroin valued at about ₹ 3,500 crore from a merchant vessel off the Gujarat coast.

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