How India’s ‘Party Drug Users’ Are Peddling For A ‘Quick Buck’ And Why Narcotics Department Is Becoming ‘Helpless’ With Growing ‘Drugs Mafia’?

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A portrait of the psychedelic drug trade in south India as it gets decentralised, explaining why cops are finding it hard to crackdown on new-age peddlers. And the dark web is enabling users to become dealers overnight, and this new crop of dealers are also putting cops in a moral dilemma.

“This is not business bro, this is just for fun,” says Vicky (name changed), defensively. Standing outside an outlet of an international restaurant chain in an upper-middle-class neighbourhood in Chennai (also his preferred locations for an exchange), he was trying to convince me that he was not a drug peddler, but was ‘only spreading the joy of getting high’. I ask him what kind of customers he has, and he says he doesn’t have customers, only friends.

Vicky, however, has many traits of an average drug dealer. He has a street name, and not many know his real one. He diligently informs all his ‘friends’ when new products hit the market, regaling them with his sales pitch and images on WhatsApp. “This is good stuff from Peru, bro, just one line and you will be sorted for the night,” he would claim of a new batch of cocaine; or he would rave about the “mind-blowing” ecstasy pills for which he had received great feedback from couples: “One each and you will have an amazing night together.” He understands the needs of his buyers and suggests what would work best for them. He discusses rates before delivery, sometimes takes an advance through Paytm. He only uses WhatsApp calls, because they cannot be tapped or recorded.

Vicky is like any of the hundreds of street-level dealers of party drugs in Indian metros, but he is also part of a growing tribe of users-turned-dealers, who are taking over the trade of LSD, MDMA/ecstasy and other synthetic drugs. He feeds the party drug circuit from within, participating in the consumption along with his customers.

Over the past several months, #KhabarLive has interviewed several drug law enforcement officers, street level dealers and users (mostly under conditions of anonymity), and there is general consensus over an emerging trend – young, educated, upper-class party-drug users who have no financial constraints, and initially took to these substances only to have a good time, have started peddling.

They either do it for the thrill, or, as most law enforcement officers believe, for the money to sustain their habit. High on TV shows valourising drug dealing like Narcos and Breaking Bad and lost in the world of psychedelic trance, they are criminals for fun. Enabled by bitcoins and the dark web, they are decentralising the trade of party drugs in Indian metros, and law enforcement officers are finding it increasingly difficult to track and nab them.

The Indian scene
Neither the annual World Drug Reports prepared by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, nor the yearly International Narcotics Control Strategy Reports (INCSR) prepared by the US Department of State, focus too much on India. Compared to global patterns, India is not considered a major producer of illicit drugs. But the country’s geographical location makes it an active point of transit for drugs, either coming from or bound for Europe, Africa, South East Asia or North America, says INCSR 2018.

“One of the prime external factors happens to be India’s close proximity to the major opium producing regions of South West and South East Asia, known as the ‘Golden Crescent’ and the ‘Golden Triangle’, respectively. The geographical location of India as such makes it vulnerable to transit, trafficking and consumption of opium derivatives in various forms along the known trafficking routes,” NCB’s 2017 annual report states.

Within India, Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru are major drug consumption spots, but other smaller cities can be major transit points. “If 100 kg of a drug comes to Chennai, about 1 kg will probably enter the city. The rest is headed elsewhere,” says an officer of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB).

Production of pharmaceutical drugs (like amphetamines, which are used in treatment of certain illnesses but can also be abused) and what are defined by the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) act as ‘precursor chemicals’ (like ephedrine, which can be used to make drugs like methamphetamines – commonly known as meth – but have other legal uses), is one of the fastest growing problems in India as she becomes a major pharma producer.

NCB officers say that India is gaining stature in the global meth trade, and is becoming a source of the drug due to the easy availability of chemicals. Several meth labs operated by international rings have been busted in the country. Illegal trade of prescription drugs through internet pharmacies is also increasing, the NCB says. There is also evidence of opium and cannabis being grown in several parts of the country – it is an open secret – and according to seizure reports, the biggest challenge.

In the global landscape, the abuse of party drugs like cocaine, MDMA or LSD in India does not raise eyebrows. The NCB’s annual reports also make it clear that the agency’s foremost focus is on the opium trade. “We are also focussing more on abuse of prescription drugs as the pharma industry grows,” says an experienced intelligence officer from NCB, “but that doesn’t mean the NCB doesn’t think of party drugs as a major challenge. Even the normal weekend parties at five-star hotels and resorts are becoming rave parties now.”

LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) or just ‘acid’, is available mostly as ‘blotters’ – a small drop of the drug on a tiny blotting paper. It is also available rarely in liquid form, and rarer still as powder. Sugar cubes with a drop of acid have also been seized in India. A drop of acid on blotter paper – usually carrying between 150 to 250 micrograms of the drug – costs around Rs 1,500, but highly potent varieties could cost up to Rs 3,000. (All rates mentioned are average street rates collated from narcotics officers and street dealers, but they could significantly vary across the country depending on the quality and customers.)

Bengaluru is becoming a hotspot for LSD, and an NCB field officer estimates that on a regular weekend, hundreds of blotters are being consumed in southern metros. The users tend to be upper-class youngsters who listen to psychedelic trance music and attend rave parties.

MDMA (chemical name ‘3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine’) is available in either its pure form as a powder, or as ecstasy pills, which have other ingredients in them. A gram of MDMA usually costs around Rs 6,000, while ecstasy pills are available for Rs 1,500, under fancy names like ‘Sprite’, ‘Nike’ and ‘Facebook’. LSD and MDMA/ecstasy are the preferred drugs in psychedelic parties, even as newer cocktail drugs – like LSA, DMT etc – continue to enter the market.

A gram of cocaine would cost at least Rs 8,000 in India. A cocaine habit can be extremely expensive, so its customers tend to be rich businessmen and their families. The cocaine trade – from international smuggling to street corner retail – is almost entirely controlled by Africans, according to NCB officers and peddlers. Vicky says, “Don’t trust the powder you get from Indian dealers, it will be celebrity coke.” Celebrity coke is the street name of highly adulterated cocaine for which celebrities pay a lot of money, because they don’t know the difference.

An intelligence officer (IO) with the NCB in a southern metro agrees with Vicky. “Forensic department guys tell us that they find impurities of up to 7 gm for every 1 gm of pure cocaine in the street products.” He adds, “If you ever come across a major Indian cocaine dealer, please let me know. They are very rare now,” he says, adding that there might be some small-time Indian peddlers. Africans are also known to fiercely guard their control over the trade, which often leads to violence. Incidents in Goa in 2013 are a case in point.

The trade patterns of LSD, MDMA and other psychedelic drugs are considerably different, point out narcotics officers. “The dealers might not do it just for the money, but it is a costly habit so the money doesn’t hurt. They earn the money to feed the addiction. They get into it as users, see the money, and then start dealing. People who are addicts are slowly moving into dealing,” the officer says.

“I have not seen even one uneducated LSD dealer so far,” another IO chimes in, “not one. Most of them are urban youngsters from the upper-class.”

Another NCB officer says, “One major difference I have seen is that most Africans in the cocaine trade are not users. Some of them are strict Christians, we have often found Bibles and prayer counters during our raids. But with drugs like LSD or MDMA, and now DMT etc, we can clearly see that it is users who are getting into the trade.”

Trading on the high
As the Zonal Director of NCB Bengaluru, with additional charge of the West zone, Sunil Kumar Sinha is considered an expert on LSD seizures by his colleagues. In his five-year ongoing stint at the NCB, he has been involved in interviewing several traffickers. “With LSD, every trafficker is a user. Every trafficker,” he says.

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“At the beginning, I was just curious,” Vicky narrates, as we settle into a car for the interview. He is comfortable with his native tongue over English, and talks with ease and confidence. “It was a decade ago and I was on my first job, and I had no idea about these things,” he narrates. A colleague was looking up the dates for a rave party in Goa, and Vicky asked him what it was all about. When his friend returned from Goa, they had a small party in Chennai. He had his first taste of LSD that night. “We went online to figure out how to do it and made sure we were careful. It was amazing, I had never had such an experience before that,” he says, holding his head and shaking it vigorously, and beaming a smile.

“Then I felt that I should not depend on anyone for this. So, I went to Goa myself,” he says.

Although the availability of party drugs has increased tremendously in other cities, Goa continues to serve drugs with ease to those who come to its shores. In the absence of credible data on drug availability, only seizures by government agencies can indicate the extent of drug abuse. According to publicly available Drug Seizure Reports (DSR) data from the NCB, between 2014 and 2016, of the 48 seizures of LSD, MDMA or both (sometimes along with other drugs like meth) in India, 30 were from Goa. Most of the seizures in the state were from the Bardez region, which is home to the Anjuna beach, a world-famous rave destination. Only in the last couple of years have the seizures in Goa comparatively reduced, as cities like Bengaluru and Kolkata see a rise in consumption. Frequent crackdowns, the most recent one following the death of two youngsters due to a drug overdose in Anjuna, have also contributed to the stunted flow of drugs by the beaches of Goa.

Interestingly, most psychedelic drug dealers have a Goa story. “Getting drugs in Goa was a cakewalk in those years. We just had to ask around, and we got whatever we wanted,” Vicky explains. A few months later, Vicky and his friends decided to get LSD and MDMA back home and host underground parties in Chennai. Now, organising and attending underground parties is a lifestyle for Vicky.

Over the years, Vicky’s network has grown. He knows dealers – his ‘friends’ – in Goa, Chennai and Bengaluru. He attends underground raves in holiday spots near major metros in south India. He explains that he only goes to small parties with close friends, “A bunch of us get together and split all the costs – the DJ, venue etc. No invitation for others.” He does not supply to more than 10 people at a time. “Anyone else asks, it is a strict no,” he says. But he refuses to accept he is a dealer. “This is not about money, I give it to people at whatever cost I get it for,” he claims, although his customers say that his rates are as high as the prevalent street rates. But he agrees he gets a thrill out of it.

Sinha’s experience in tracking LSD dealers is in line with Vicky’s own story. Back at the NCB’s Bengaluru zonal office, he pulls out a sheet of plain A4 paper and starts drawing out how LSD chains operate. “There is a pattern. LSD trafficking happens in closed groups, the drug does not come directly to one user. One user will introduce it to another, who will be a user until he realises there is money in it.

He will then introduce it to another person who will form his own network to make money. And then someone from that network will take it ahead, the networks spread like that. But the network grows in groups, and each group will be a closed group,” Sinha explains. Another senior IPS officer who has dealt with several cases of LSD in Hyderabad agrees, and says that there is a “groupism” in LSD dealing, and that in catching one person, they usually end up arresting more offenders.

Such closed groups are also driven by emotional dynamics, and stories of love, friendship and betrayal are aplenty. With a sympathetic smile, Sinha talks of a case where a trafficker – son of a rich businessman – got a girl and her boyfriend hooked to LSD out of vengeance, because he was spurned by the girl.

I ask Vicky if he is ever scared he will get caught. “Why should I get scared?” he shoots back defensively, “I am not doing anything wrong. I am having fun, I am sharing the fun. Nobody is going to come after me.”

“There is a strong belief, a myth, among LSD dealers, that they will never be caught,” Sinha says, “They are wrong.” The officer from Hyderabad adds, “They keep telling themselves that they won’t get caught, that is their rationalisation.” This belief is a running theme among small-time dealers, until they get caught.

Tracking addicts, tracing dealers
“There are three types of LSD dealers we usually see, apart from those who do it just for the money,” Sinha explains, “The first type are those people who peddle to fund their habit and party life. Second, they are doing it just for the thrill. We once had a case of a son from a rich family who got introduced to drugs in Goa and started peddling. He could not even explain why he was into it. It was just fun for him.” #KhabarLive’s interviews with several users and dealers have also reflected this observation. “And the third type are those who have surrendered to the drug – they are addicts. It is the drug which is controlling the mind.”

Any fresh operation to track dealers would start with the addicts. “First, we get the addicts to speak up and work up the chain. However careful a dealer is, he will make some mistake. Some communication will leak. We will wait patiently till then. Especially in big catches, a lot of patience is required,” says another senior NCB officer.

In early 2015, officers of the NCB received information that a student of SRM University in the outskirts of Chennai, staying in a private apartment near the campus, was supplying LSD to students. Their target was then 23-year-old Rohit Balasubramaniam. Investigators started watching his movements with the usual surveillance methods. On February 10, they knocked on his door and during the search, they found 2 gm of cocaine and 78 blots of LSD, along with Rs 40,000 in cash.

In the eyes of the NCB, even those who abuse LSD sparingly are ‘addicts’ – the term is used loosely, without any differentiation between a rare user, a dependent and an addict. But for Rohit, they had the sympathy reserved for addicts. “We only pitied him when he walked in,” a legal staffer at the NCB says, “he was nice and gentle, had dark circles around his eyes and a dead expression. How do you think addicts look? He looked like that. We felt bad for him.” The son of a rich doctor-couple who lived abroad, he was living alone in Chennai. “His parents were shell-shocked when they came to our office,” the staffer says. Investigators say that he got about Rs 30,000 as pocket money every month, but even that wasn’t enough to pay for his drugs.

It did not take much persuasion on the part of the interrogators to get him to reveal his source. He divulged the name – Roshan Nair, aka Rahul Garg. In his confession (which he recanted in court), Rohit stated that he got in touch with Roshan in June 2014 through an internet forum. Roshan charged him Rs 1,000-1,200 per blot of LSD. Later, after negotiations, Roshan charged him Rs 600-800 per blot, and Rohit started selling it to other students for Rs 1,000-1,200 per blot, drawing a neat profit out of it.

So, on the same day, the NCB raided Roshan’s home at Taramani in Chennai. They were stunned at the seizure – 2520 blots of acid on three perforated sheets of paper, altogether weighing 30 gm and worth at least Rs 25 lakh in street value. He also had Rs 35,000 in cash, a HDFC Platinum Edge credit card, a HDFC Diners Club credit card and a HDFC Titanium debit card. It remains one of the biggest ever seizures of LSD by the NCB in the region. On May 31, 2018, a narcotics court in Chennai found Rohit and Roshan guilty for the possession and sale of psychotropic substances, and sentenced them to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment.

“Rohit is a typical example of who today’s dealers of LSD and MDMA are,” explains an officer who worked on the case. “He was young, well-educated and rich, but he got into it to feed his habit.” And yet, Roshan wasn’t an addict, perhaps not even a regular user, say officers, “He was a young IT professional who had the knowledge and access to source drugs from the dark net. He saw the money in it and went for it.”

Narcotics officers are sometimes stunned at how user-turned-peddlers think they won’t be caught. In August 2018, the Telangana Prohibition and Excise department got a tip-off on a techie in Hyderabad openly selling MDMA and cocaine. His marketplace? Facebook. Several of Koustav Biswas’s posts soliciting customers were found by the police and #KhabarLive. He also used to post images of himself consuming LSD or weed.

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An excise officer tells #KhabarLive that Biswas was the son of a central government employee and from a financially stable family. “He did it for the thrill and saw nothing wrong in it, but I feel he could not survive without consuming these drugs,” an officer says, adding that he was only a consumer till 2017.

However, these successful cases are only a fraction of the hundreds of other dealers who operate freely and go untraced.

Why India’s narco cops Unable to crack down the new-age drug dealers?
The dark web is enabling users to become dealers overnight, and this new crop of dealers are also putting cops in a moral dilemma.

#KhabarLive sitting with a senior police officer, and he pulls out his smartphone to show me a video. The video shows a teenager sitting in front of a desktop at a government office. He is seen waiting for the person behind the smartphone to give him a cue, and then he starts logging into an onion router. He explains every step as he proceeds to order illegal drugs from an online bazaar on the dark web.

His audience? Senior police officers in Hyderabad who were attempting to crack down on drug abuse. The video was recorded for an investigation, and was shown to this reporter on conditions of anonymity. The boy in the video was the son of a known acquaintance who agreed to hold a demonstration for senior police officers. “He ordered some drugs, and it arrived at the address a few days later. It was a part of our investigation, and we traced the parcel back to Europe. But we were surprised at the ease with which someone can order drugs off the internet. We cannot track this online,” a senior officer in Hyderabad says.

“The dark web has become a major source of all illicit drugs now, especially cocaine, LSD and MDMA, which are not produced in India. Producing psychedelics needs a high level of expertise and experience, so it arrives from Europe, Russia and Israel,” an NCB officer says. An event manager in Bengaluru says that his ‘friends’ had recently sourced MDMA “straight from the Netherlands” through the dark web. Another officer points out, “That’s why many of the dealers are educated, because they need to know how to operate the dark web.”

‘Dark web’ is that part of the internet which cannot be accessed without specific software and authorisations. The part of the internet that we access every day, like news websites or social networks, are the easily accessible ‘surface web’. Then there is the content on ‘deep web’, which do not need specific authorisations to be accessed, but are not indexed on search engines, so it takes some digging to find them. Dark web has encrypted networks like TOR, and the content on them can be accessed only if you have the keys to it.

The reason why it is the preferred destination for all illegal activities, from child pornography and sex trade to arms smuggling? No user on the dark web can be traced. You can get the keys, but no one else can access them.

Narcotics officers are noticing that in nearly every seizure of synthetic drugs in Indian metros, the source of the drug was the dark web. Users buy bitcoins with real money (bitcoin transactions are also untraceable), and use the bitcoins to order drugs online. The vendors could be sitting anywhere in the world, and they send the drugs through courier services.

Davidson Devasirvatham, Commissioner of Police, Madurai City, who was the Zonal Director (DIG) of NCB Chennai earlier, says, “A few years ago, the dealers of LSD and MDMA were international travellers, like rave party DJs, event managers, and hippie tourists. They were the ones bringing it into the country. But now, things have changed drastically.”

The change in trend is definite and can be seen across cases. In most recent cases booked by the Telangana Excise Department (which has been leading the crackdown in Hyderabad since they got powers under the NDPS Act in 2016), the dark web has been the source of the drugs. Roshan Nair also confessed to buying drugs online through dark websites like Silkroad 2.0, and vendors like T5 and Testalled. For the financial transactions, he bought bitcoins from localbitcoins.com, and was also a member of forums like webhigh.org. Street-level dealers are also reportedly sourcing drugs from the dark web now.

A 4-part paper by Reliance GCS titled ‘The rise of dark web drugs market in India’ clearly lays out the nature of the challenge in India. The paper says that the markets are becoming increasingly specialised and interconnected. “The majority of buyers seem to be recreational drug users, who have used drugs previously. They are attracted to the dark web markets to purchase drugs because of a perceived increase in safety, improved quality and variety, and ease and speed of delivery,” the paper says. Vendors and regular users provide the new user with elaborate rules and tips to avoid being traced or caught.

The paper has found that there are 10 Indian drug vendors who are active in the dark web. These vendors supply different varieties of hashish and also source other synthetic drugs from different parts of the world to serve customers here. This trade is untraceable online, and the strategies to tackle them include undercover police operations, tracking the real world transfer of drugs through monitored or controlled deliveries, following financial transactions, and highly sophisticated online takedowns of these markets – none of which are easy for Indian narcotics officers.

“The saving grace is that LSD and MDMA are not being made in India just yet,” says a former NCB officer. But even that could be changing.

Make in India, untraced
On November 30, 2015, Bengaluru NCB raided a posh apartment in the city’s RT Nagar neighbourhood. The man arrested during the raid, Nishan, is a native of Mangaluru. NCB officers alleged that he, along with his partners Hanif and Prateek, ran a ‘well-oiled’ drug distribution racket in Bengaluru, Mangaluru and Goa, and their customers included students and young professionals. 110 gm of cocaine, a blot of LSD, 19 gm of hashish and 1.2 gm of MDMA were found at his house.

While Nishan was arrested at the RT Nagar house, his partner Hanif and another person were arrested in Bengaluru while receiving drugs arriving from Mangaluru. Another partner of Nishan, Prateek, was arrested in Goa this year. This case would have remained unnoticed by the media if it wasn’t for the fifth arrest in the case – a model named Darshitmita Gowda. A former Ms Queen Karnataka and a regular at fashion events, her name featured in the apartment’s agreement. The police investigated her role into the drug trade and found that financial transactions for the drug exchanges were made through her account. Under the NDPS act, this was also an offence and she was booked.

While the case grabbed headlines due to her involvement, there was something even more interesting which caught the eye of the investigators. Perhaps for the first time ever, they seized during a raid at a residence, equipment and chemicals used to make MDMA. At Hanif’s Mangaluru residence, they found a pill/tablet-making machine, precursor chemicals, CDs with formulas and other lab equipment. The forensic lab found traces of MDMA in the tablet making machine.

“The machine was bought on Alibaba.com and some chemicals needed to make MDMA were also found. These chemicals are also used in other industries, so they are available in India. We believe they were making MDMA from scratch,” says Sunil Kumar Sinha, Zonal Director, NCB Bengaluru.

The understanding till the seizure was that MDMA was only being imported or, rarely, prepared in chemical factories in India in large quantities for export, but this case opened the eyes of the NCB to the possibility that educated individuals were finding the resources in India to produce it themselves.

This poses a major challenge for law enforcement. One of the strategies to trace drugs ordered on the dark web is to monitor international packages at courier companies. Staff at several companies have been trained to spot suspicious packages and it has borne results. It is easy to spot these packages coming in from far away destinations in Europe, since they are few in number, points out an officer. “What happens when the production is happening within the country and it’s being ordered off the dark web? It will be even more difficult for us, the traffic is too high,” the officer laments.

This will only compound the already existing problems faced by the NCB.

Data collated from the Drug Seizure Reports (DSR) of the NCB shows that over the past five years, the number and quantity of seizures of LSD and MDMA have been reducing. The DSR data includes seizures from not just NCB, but all agencies empowered under the NDPS Act to book drug cases. The data is corroborated by field officers, who say that they are seeing a major dip in the number of cases they are booking every year. “An explosion is going to happen soon. Now is the lean period. Cases have come down but trafficking has increased, I can say that with certainty,” an IO says.

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For law enforcement officers, older methods are failing or not yielding results which are worthwhile.

Busting rave parties has almost entirely stopped now. “If we get specific inputs we would still bust, but the problem with these parties is that the quantities we seize will be very small. We will only find users, not dealers. It takes a lot of time to plan and go, we need several officers because of the huge crowd. And for each user we have to take a blood sample, file documentation – it needs a lot of manpower, which we don’t have,” an IPS officer says.

Human intelligence is bearing few results. “The credibility is less, we only find other dealers planting information to do away with rivals, or simply wrong information,” one officer says. A former NCB officer says, “80% is wrong or motivated information, so I never chased human sources. In the ganja trade, there are a lot of human sources, but other drugs we have to use surveillance.”

And on the demand reduction side, awareness can be counterproductive, an officer points out, “We are worried that we would end up introducing the drug to those who don’t even know about it. It isn’t easy to run targeted awareness campaigns.”

“The scenario has changed, we are not able to shift focus from traditional methods to modern methods. Traffickers are not easily detectable now, and there is a generation gap between the traffickers and us, we don’t understand their culture,” another officer admits.

Pulling the weed, saving the crop – with an iron hand
Indian laws against abuse of narcotics and psychotropic substances are among the strongest in the world. Every narcotics officer believes that such tough laws are absolutely necessary, and any attempt to dilute them to benefit small-time users have been met with tough opposition. The ‘purity vs quantity’ debate is a case in point.

The NDPS Act categorises cases based on the amount of drug seized, and punishment varies from a maximum of six months for ‘small quantity’ to 20 years imprisonment for a first offence involving ‘commercial quantity’. For MDMA/ecstasy, ‘small quantity’ is 0.5 gm (‘small quantity’ of LSD is 0.002 gm, you can look up the entire chart here). So if one has a gram of MDMA on them, they will be booked for carrying intermediate quantity. ‘Commercial quantity’ is 10 gm for MDMA/Ecstasy.

But here is where things get tricky. Even if there are adulterants in the substance one is carrying, it doesn’t matter. The whole seizure, with the adulterants in it, would be considered. So even if one was caught with 10 gm of adulterated MDMA, which has say only 20% pure MDMA so it is only actually 2 gm of MDMA, they will be booked for ‘commercial quantity’, which means significantly longer jail time.

In 2003 came E Micheal Raj vs Intelligence Officer, Narcotic Control Bureau, in which the Supreme Court held that, “in the mixture of a narcotic drug or a psychotropic substance with one or more neutral substance/s, the quantity of the neutral substance/s is not to be taken into consideration while determining the small quantity or commercial quantity of a narcotic drug or psychotropic substance. It is only the actual content by weight of the narcotic drug which is relevant for the purposes of determining whether it would constitute small quantity or commercial quantity.” This meant that the police had to test the strength of the seizure, not the quantity.

This gave an opening to several convicts to appeal against their verdict, stating that they were wrongly booked under ‘commercial quantity’. This was welcomed by activists who believed that small time users would get off easy, but the NCB was incensed. So, in 2009, the Central government brought in a notification which reversed the SC order. A challenge to this notification is still pending at the SC.

NCB officers defend the reversing of the SC order and believe that the laws must be very tough on users and dealers. But at least three senior IPS officers told #KhabarLive that they exercise extreme caution in applying the harsh laws against first-time users. “We have to pull the weed out, but we also have to save the crop,” one of them said with a smile. “We feel bad you know, youngsters from good households. Once after a cocaine bust, I called all them and their parents for a counselling session,” another officer states.

There are two common ‘E’s in cases of youngsters abusing psychedelic drugs – Electronic Dance Music (EDM), and emotional trauma. In a report prepared for his superiors, a senior IPS officer has detailed the case of a young teenager and her tryst with drug abuse. She was from a rich family, but was facing emotional turmoil at home. She was unhappy with life. She took refuge in EDM parties and was introduced to LSD through a friend, and became dependent on them to escape her family trauma. “She was just a kid,” the officer recounts. “This is also true of the Calvin Mascarenhas case,” an officer points out. “He was not a bad kid. But he was facing issues with personal relationships and his family,” he adds sympathetically.

The stories of many of these users and dealers evoke sympathy. For 31-year-old Aravind (name changed), who is now out on bail having been arrested for possession and sale of LSD, the past year has been a daze. He agreed to share his story with #KhabarLive under the condition of anonymity. With a mellow demeanour and a receding hairline, he has now turned to music and god to get his life back on track.

His journey from being a lost kid to becoming a user and then a dealer, is typical. He is from an upper-class family and has loving parents, but could not concentrate on academics at school. He dropped out of college. His priorities changed and he concentrated more on his music, which is when he got into smoking pot. Like in most cases, ganja was his gateway drug. “Around ten years ago, I planned a trip to Anjuna in Goa to try LSD,” he recounts.

As he moved around with small jobs in media, he continued to abuse drugs and attend EDM parties. “I tried shrooms in Kodai and LSA as well,” he says, adding that by then he also understood that drugs could go wrong. But he continued with his habit, and took to the dark web to order drugs online for himself. “I wasn’t really a tech geek, but it was easy for me to learn and get the stuff online,” he says.

“I was teaching music, so I did not make a lot of money,” he recounts. And that’s when he noticed how easy the money he was. He was getting high-quality LSD for Rs 300 online, and he could push it for Rs 800-1,000 easily on the street. “I was not planning to make money from it initially, but when I saw the cash lying around, I changed my mind.” He started ordering hundreds of blotters of LSD, and MDMA, since there was demand for that too.

A few months later, one of Aravind’s buyers – who was also dealing – gave Aravind up to the police. “He pushed me to sell stamps to him in the middle of the night, which was unusual. I walked down my street to hand it over to him. And as I neared him, I saw one other man with him. Next thing I know, I was arrested by the police. I gave up, I didn’t fight it,” Aravind says. The police found more than 60 blotters of LSD with the duo.

“I don’t think I did anything wrong. I just sold it to the wrong people, and I was punished by god for it,” he says, “What’s so wrong in doing LSD?”

An NCB officer responds to that, “But he wasn’t just using, he was dealing. And he was putting others in harm’s way!”

The response reminded me of a conversation with one of Vicky’s customers. Struggling with a mental illness and a severe drug-dependence, he had recounted how at the peak of his dependence, he had snorted ‘several’ grams of MDMA and smoked through hundreds of grams of ganja over a couple of days. He was out of a job, fighting his family and wanting to escape life. The drugs just made it worse, pushing him further into a downward spiral. “I cleaned up later, and I deleted all dealers’ numbers from my phone,” he had said, and I wondered if Vicky thought of this as ‘spreading the joy of getting high’.

As I leave Sinha’s office at NCB Bengaluru, I ask him what he thinks about those who pass drugs around just for fun. “They destroy families. They will say they are doing it for fun, but they will never know how much families suffer because of the abuse. They will never feel the pain.” #KhabarLive