INDIA’S pharmaceutical industry is among the largest providers of generic drugs globally, but that distinction is marred by the worrisome reality of the clandestine manufacturing and trafficking of synthetic drugs. The unravelling of the illegal drug trade in Himachal Pradesh’s pharma hub Baddi-Barotiwala points to not only the magnitude of the criminal activity, but also what the authorities are up against. A firm that was raided first obtained Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) formulations for legal sale and then diverted these for a nefarious use as sedatives and hypnotics. Investigations reveal transactions to several states of drugs worth more than Rs 100 crore within a span of two years.
In 2019, India ranked among the 10 countries reporting the biggest opioid seizures. Kullu has attracted attention since long for the cultivation and processing of cannabis, and some huge drug hauls nationwide have been traced back to the hill state. Cognisant of the seriousness of the problem and demonstrating its intent, Himachal, in the first such action, even confiscated ill-gotten properties of drug smugglers and dealers. If the indiscriminate use of chitta, or fine heroin, was not alarming enough, now prescription drugs and ingredients are being diverted for recreational use in the country. A strong message needs to be sent to every pharma hub, be it in Himachal or Uttarakhand, of zero tolerance for any illegal activity. That requires inter-agency coordination, frequent surprise audits and raids, as also announcements from the political stage that an open-handed policy for the industry does not translate into a licence for misuse.
Considered an opium wellspring, Afghanistan saw a seven-fold increase in methamphetamine seizures two years ago. Now, with no foreign troops on its soil, this diversified market in the Taliban-run country can only be expected to exploit the absence of restrictions. This could have serious implications for the flow of drugs into India. In the persistent war against drugs, there is no excuse for a free run for smuggling syndicates, that too through licensed establishments.