Mumbai: For the past few months, tyrannical cops have been inspiring fear and frustration among the population, as they lay siege on the city’s once-flourishing nightlife, one unnecessary raid at a time.
These busts — conducted to ostensibly bust drug and prostitution rackets — have so far yielded no concrete results, barring, of course, the harassment caused to unsuspecting guests and revellers.
While the legitimacy of the cops’ concern remains a hot potato, MiD DAY has stumbled upon evidence which proves that drug cartels in the city aren’t just flourishing in the supposed sordid corners of clubs or under the glamour of strobe lights, but out in the open, in broad daylight, on our very own city streets.
While police are busy raiding pubs, a drug business is flourishing less than 10 metres from a school in the city.
On Friday, MiD DAY stumbled upon one such racket flourishing in Vile Parle (East) barely 25 feet away from Nityananda High School. And no, the drugs were not being circulated in a dark, narrow, nondescript alley, but on the main road, straight out of what looked like a municipal garbage vat, overflowing with refuse. Are Dhoble and his band of men watching? Perhaps it is time they dragged their sights away from the nightclubs and bars, and trained them on the streets of Mumbai, dotted with distribution points maintained by drug cartels.
Local resident James Lobo, who is a web designer by profession, revealed that the innocuous garbage dump has been doubling as a drug distributing kiosk for years now, and though locals know it all, they choose to turn a blind eye, out of fear or apathy. “The business hours start right from the morning – students from wealthy families visit the dealer for a daily fix on their way to the colleges nearby. Evenings are reserved for members of the elite class, who line up on the deserted street in their swanky imported sedans, and are sold the contraband openly,” said Lobo. Armed with this tip off and a camera, Team MiD DAY took position right across the street from the dump on Friday. This is what followed:
A youngster clad in knee length shorts, barely out of school, walked up gingerly, and handed over some cash to a grimy squatter sitting on a slab of stone. In return, she promptly pulled out two plastic pouches from the deep recesses of an innocuous looking garbage bag kept next to her.
Concealing one packet inside her blouse, she placed the other on the stone she had occupied, and gestured to the boy to pocket it and move. Another client was seen pocketing a pouch, and in return writing out what was perhaps an order and handing it over to the two women who seemed to be manning the kiosk for this illegal trade.
A bearded man dressed in saffron robes was seen moving in the direction of the dump. Sauntering up to him, this reporter casually asked him if drugs were being bought and sold in the near vicinity. The client was more than willing to help not only with information — he pointed helpfully to the spot across the road — but also in kind, by offering to get some samples. “Yaha apko sab milega. Ganja sadak ke us paar, aur charas thoda aage (‘You will get everything here — ganja across the street and charas a little further ahead’). The man also freely parted with some unsolicited advice – one should not get addicted to drugs, he cautioned.
The man, who later identified himself as Charat Prakash, promptly crossed the street to the rendezvous, approached the two women manning the dump, and returned with two pouches of charas, weighing approximately five grams each and neatly packed and stapled in polythene bags. The purchase had left him poorer by a mere Rs 120. Enquiring if the reporter was planning for a party later in the evening, the generous soul even offered to procure the substances in bulk. “I do not take or deal in drugs, but know where it is sold on the streets. If I get a few bucks, in exchange for information, I can use it to buy lunch,” he quipped.
Armed with this incontestable evidence, MiD DAY approached the local MLA Krishna Hegde. Hegde expressed shock at the discovery that drugs were being sold in his jurisdiction out in the open, like fruits and vegetables in the market place. He was also alarmed that the substances were being sold to youngsters. Enlisting his support, Hedge promptly made a call to the Additional Commissioner of Police Vishwas Nangre-Patil, who in turn spurred the Vile Parle police into action.
“Now that the crime has been highlighted, we will see to it that quick action is taken, and the crime eradicated from the street before more innocent children succumb to the ill effects of the intoxicants, which invariably lead to addiction. Charas is a gateway drug, which can encourage users to experiment with more toxic drugs like cocaine, in the future,” said the officer, who was formerly with the Narcotics cell, and has been known to bust rave parties.
MiD DAY sat across the table from Sashikant Talegaonkar, senior Police Inspector of the Vile Parle police station. Within minutes, a raid party — under the leadership of PI Hedekar and comprising unit members of the Anti-narcotic cell of Mumbai Police — was dispatched to the crime scene.
To verify findings made by MiD DAY, cops sent in a decoy customer. The moment the contraband was sold to this bogus client, the police team swooped down on the spot and arrested Shanta Arjun (45), the woman who had made the first purchase of the day, and her husband and accomplice Kanda-swamy Kaveri Arjun (50).
Recovering upto 2 kg of drugs, PSI Chandrakant Gawas of the Crime Branch (Narcotics) confirmed that the contraband was indeed ganja, with a market value of approximately Rs 10,000 in the open market, depending on its quality.
At the time of going to press, the police was in the process of recording the statements of the accused and looking for more evidence that could, hopefully, lead them to bigger fish thriving in the profitable seas of drug dealing.
Caught in the act — Kandaswamy Kaveri Arjun (50) and Shanta Arjun (45), who hail from south India, confessed to selling the drugs. They also revealed that they had been picked up earlier by the Kandivli police on similar charges, but were subsequently released on bail. At the time of the raid, the couple displayed no signs of fear or resistance, and calmly opened their packets hidden in the garbage, which stored large quantities of drugs.
“I do not know the names of my customers, but going by the fact that they come driving big cars, I assume they are influential people from the high classes,” said Kandaswamy in his broken Hindi.