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SIT: Charas trail in the Himachal


Iram Mirza,CNN-IBN
Jun 20, 2007 at 04:41am IST

The Parvati Valley in Himachal Pradesh is called Lord Shiva's own country. It also may be called the charas smuggler’s paradise. CNN-IBN Correspondent Iram Mirza went on a trek through this beautiful valley and found charas farms, smugglers and a massive drugs racket.

Here is Mirza’s first person account.

My first step is to trace the charas hubs in the Parvati Valley. The first stop is a village called Tosh. I wire up a hidden camera and pose as an Australian tourist. I chat with fellow backpackers and soon one of them agrees to guide me to a village that supplies the best charas. Not a few posh restaurants or houses, but an entire village involved in the drug trade! Somewhere, up in the mountains.

We trek to our first destination, a remote village called Kutla, not far from Manikaran in the Parvati Valley. I am with an Israeli tourist who like many others is looking for quality charas. The police is rarely seen at Kutla, which makes it a favourite haunt for foreign drug tourists.

We soon make contact with Sheru, a local drug peddler, at a charas party. Sheru also arranges cheap labour for ‘rubbing’ charas leaves to get extract. We decided to tap Sheru for more critical information.

Mirza: So, there are no huge fields here?

Israeli: The fields are very far.

Sheru: Yeah, only mountain people go there

Mirza: Then how do they bring big quantities?

Israeli: Little, little (in small amounts).

The Village

Kutla looks like any other village. But inside, is a very different world. For those living in these unmapped villages, on the fringes of charas fields, rubbing charas is a way of life.

Sheru says foreign drug traffickers grow charas in Himachal. “Foreigners have fields up there. They have fields; they have tents, they have everything up there,” says Sheru.

Mirza: Really? But how can foreigners buy land up there? They cannot buy land.

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Sheru says the foreigners come here every year and pay landowners and workers money. “They rent,” says the Israeli.

“Yeah, they rent,” says Sheru.

Mirza: If I want to buy a field up there how much should I pay?

Sheru: For one acre for 40 (means one acre yielding 40 kg) you pay Rs 10,000.

Sheru claims Kutla does not exist on any map of the area and several villages are often given the same name to confuse the police.

I told Sheru that I was interested in bigger quantities of charas, but could he deliver? Sheru took the bait and soon we were leaving Kutla, and climbing higher still.

Some hours later we got to the remote upper reaches of the Parvati Valley, and there I saw the rumoured charas fields of Himachal. You could mistake them for any other cultivation: the lush green crop was well fenced and grew across acres the mountains. The place was remote but the local drug network had no problem in employing people to rub the charas.

Mirza: How many people in the season rub? How many people in the Himalayas?

Sheru: Many thousands.

The charas villages and fields may not show on maps but drug racketeers knew their territories well.

Mirza: : You don’t know whose fields are these; they are not marked>

Sheru: I know. These are a foreigner’s.

Sheru says the area we visited has six big fields, each yielding 20 to 40 kilos of charas every season. He Malana, Tosh and Rasol villages ‘compete’ to produce more charas and Tosh makes some 100 kg every season.

The drug mafia have ‘headline fields’ where charas is grown for the police to destroy, grab headlines and then go away. The big charas fields up in the mountains are left untouched.

HP to Goa, via Delhi

Cheap Nepalese labour is the backbone of the industry. Hired by middlemen, the labourers are sent up the mountains to rub charas. Each worker gets Rs 120 per day and may process about 20 gm of charas.

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We are told that the Israeli and Italian mafia are the main buyers and each has its areas of influence. Mallana village is an Israeli hub and Tosh sells mainly to Italians. A lot of the charas goes to Goa.

“We sell it (charas) for Rs 70,000 there (in Goa) and here it is Rs 15,000,” says Sheru. “It’s only in Delhi that there is little problem. After Delhi it’s no problem. You go on the highway.”

How is the charas carried?

In big, nice cars—Delhi numbers,” says Sheru.

And not just Goa, Himachal’s charas travels right across the globe. As the Israeli says: “You get Malana cream (Malana village charas) in Holland.”

Mirza: I have located the charas - those who grow it and where its grown. But what's troubling me is a tip-off about the foreign drug mafia. That today its drug cartels from Italy and Israel that are running Himachal's charas Industry. So I am back in Kasaul, discovered by the Hippies in the 70's, today well known for its rave parties - I have an invite for one. Lets see what I find out there.

About 50,000 foreign tourists come to the Parbati and Manikaran Valleys of Himachal every year looking for spiritual ecstasy and of course charas.

CNN-IBN Correspondent Iram Mirza wade through the rave party with a hidden camera to find out why so many Israelis are coming here.

“Basically we like it so much. When you were 18, what did you do? You go to college but we go to military. And so we want to experience everything and our minds are the craziest,” said one of the Israeli.

Q: What about Italians.

Israeli: If you want the best charas you need to go to the Italians.

Westerners with chillums, lost in a daze of charas smoke, are a regular sight here. But while most are here for private pleasure some have made charas into a very big and dangerous business.

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A confidential police report obtained by this Special Investigation Team reveals that 90 per cent of the Rs 900 crore illegal charas trade in Himachal is controlled by foreign mafias.

Q: So there must be some drug mafia working around here?

A: yes Italian mafia you will find it in tosh.

Israeli: Go to Malana. It’s little Italy all over again.

Israeli: If you want the drugs you don’t fear the mafia.

More than 142 foreigners have been arrested under the Narcotics Act in the last seven years but the smuggling continues.

A: In small villages you are the King. You can get whatever you want and do whatever you want. They want it because we bring money to this region.

The pictures available with CNN-IBN Special Investigation Team show a foreigner teaching locals how to process charas into ice hash, that is popular abroad. Such pictures are often posted on the websites to attract buyers. The Israelis boast that the police too is hand in glove with them.

Q: Isn’t there a cop trouble around here?

A: No its just for newspapers. Military police go to Malana and burn the field. You burn one field there are some 20,000 fields up there - 800 kilos a season.

Israeli: Two months ago,80 kgs of that 800 came to Israel.

Mirza: And if you get into cop trouble in the Valley, some bakshish could always bail you out. The standard rate I am told is Rs 200 for every tola of charas that you are caught with. Just slide out the money and smoke in - the 'shanti'.

But the mafia don't talk in tolas 100s of kilos Charas are successfully smuggled out of Himachal every year and here's how.

Q: You are telling me that it travels in apple boxes.

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A: Yes Kullu apples to India, Kullu apples Kullu apples…

Clearly the returns are worth the risk. A gram of Kullu's best-known charas - Malana Cream worth Rs 25 in Himachal, fetches over Rs 3000 in Holland. Which means these Hebrew and Italian signboards are probably here to stay.

So next question how does this thriving cannabis or charas industry actually work? How do hundreds of kilos of charas change hands from local dealers to foreign traffickers? How are these deals struck?

Mirza: I'm told that I could start here at Hotel Hilltop View one of the posh hotels at Kasaul. I'm still Australian, but I've flashed some big money, and let it be known that I'm looking for a big drug deal. I've been called for a meeting at 1130 pm. Madan, the Hotel manager is also a mediator in narcotic deals. I say I am looking for a massive 40 kilos of Charas. Straightaway, I'm shown some samples I guess, I'm in business.

Mirza: Next, I am taken to the local boss who happens to be a lady. Santosh is the widow of a notorious drug smuggler Tashi who was killed in an accident last year. She is now the drug lord of the village. She gives me fresh assurances.

Santosh: Tell her that she will not have any complaint about the maal (product).

Madan: You will not get any complaints about the maal.

Mirza: Do you give it to some packing unit.

Santosh: Packing and sending is my responsibility.

Madan: If you want in Delhi, Bombay or Goa, we will provide you there.

Mirza: Next day, I am called to Bhuntar, another town in Himachal. I'm told to follow a white van for a while and then, I'm told to walk. Santosh greets us at a palatial house.

Santosh: Your maal will reach. Delivery and packing is my responsibility.

Madan: This is our responsibility to do the delivery.

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But there's a hitch the dealers want an advance.

Madan: Nobody will give you without advance.

Mirza: I can show you the money if you want.

Madan: Nobody will give you that much of maal.

Mirza: I have to call it off then.

The hitch soon becomes a deadlock.

Mirza:: I have to call it off then?

Mirza: Why was I driving a hard bargain? Well I'd been told that settling the matter easily would reveal that I wasn't a seasoned drug trafficker. In the good old local tradition, the drug trade too had to have its hardcore haggling. Next, we finally strike a deal.

Mirza: Still trying to strike that big drug deal next we were taken a few 100 metres up this road to Santosh's palatial house. But even as we bargained, someone was listening in a man called Neetu, who was now the key to clinching the deal. I'm told the Charas will come with Neetu from a village called Rasol. I insist on meeting him before paying an advance.

Madan: He doesn’t want to show himself.

Mirza: After some hard bargaining, they ask me to at least show them the money.

Madan: Ok, we are going to take the risk because we trust you.

The final meeting is at a hotel room in Shimla. The mystery dealer Neetu, finally shows up and he comes with his share of doubts.

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Neetu: You don’t trust us and we don’t trust you. We have to be little careful. See you have the money police will not catch you if you are caught with the money in open. But if we have maal we are caught even if we have just have a tola. She has been checked, ask her.

Mirza: But the colour of money finally works. I showed Neetu Rs 10 lakh in cash.

Q: Satisfied ?

Neetu: We were satisfied since beginning.

Mirza: And I finally have a deal 40 kilos of Charas for which I have promised Rs 10 lakh.

Mirza:With everything you just saw, safely on hidden camera, we of course never returned. The drug dealers soon figured that we were journalists. And so, to warn others in the charas industry this was soon circulated across the valley – ‘beware of journalists'.

So, the Parvati Valley is clearly the charas Capital of the world. 100s of kilos grown illegally and smuggled out with impunity and sadly the Government and police know all about it.

In fact, a State Narcotics Report confirms that over 3000 acres of mountain land in Himachal is under illegal cannabis cultivation. Run by the Italian and Israeli Mafia by remote control.

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Himachal Pradesh Narcotic Officer OP Sharma said, “Communication is so advanced, they are remote controlling it. They have taught locals so they are not required on how to pack etc.”

The foreign mafia has also rented land through locals, to further lower their costs.

“These guys are manning the fields at such heights, where its difficult for enforcement agencies to act,” Sharma added.

Its forest land like this, technically known as wasteland, that's often used for charas cultivation. But on paper this land belongs to no one. So even the police find the fields they don't have anyone to prosecute.

Sharma said, “Seizure of contraband doesn’t matter. It’s the Investigations that matter but we are poor in that.”

And as the foreigners are crucial to Himachal's tourist economy its unlikely that the Government will clamp down too hard on the charas smuggling.

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