Kullu (Himachal Pradesh), March 18 (IANS) With NDPS cases registered in Himachal considerably more compared with the rest of the country, state authorities feel that a considerable increase in the surety amount sought from foreigner, mainly from African countries, for bail in such cases may help fight the drugs scourge.

Official cite a recent Himachal Pradesh High Court order to grant bail to a Nigerian national on furnishing a surety calculated on the basis of the country’s per capita income of $2,033 (or approximately Rs 145,000). Authorities believes the amount is ‘meagre’ and could encourage foreign nationals to jump bail.

The state has since challenged the High Court order before an appropriate bench to demand a steep hike in the surety amount.

The involvement of foreigners, including those from African countries, UK, Russia, Israel etc in the murky drug trade in the picturesque Kullu Valley is an open secret. In less than four months, 15 nationals from African countries, mainly Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Zambia, were arrested in Kullu district in drug trafficking cases.

Official figures indicate that in the last five years, as many as 767 cases were registered under Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, and 1,020 persons arrested, including 125 foreigners, on charge of drug peddling.

The crime rate under NDPS Act in the hill state is 7.7 per cent compared with 2.8 per cent average in the rest of the country.

Police say that involvement of youths in possessing and trafficking of drugs in Kullu district alone is nearly 80 per cent in 1,820 NDPS cases registered in the last 12 years, with sharpest increase witnessed among those in their twenties. Foreigners too get involved for earning a quick buck.

According to officials, over 60 per cent of the poppy and cannabis produced in Himachal is smuggled to countries like Israel, Italy, Holland and other European countries. The rest finds its way to Nepal or other Indian states like Goa, Punjab, and Delhi.

Interestingly, the High Court has time and again rapped state authorities over their response, or lack of it, to the growing drug menace in Himachal.

Kullu Superintendent of Police Gaurav Singh, who has played a crucial role in the arrests of many African nationals in NDPS cases, told IANS that most were arrested from New Delhi.

“The arrested Africans were mostly operating from Delhi through small-time peddlers based in Himachal and nearby states,” he said.

According to police, cannabis and poppy (opium) plants are grown illegally on vast tracts in Kullu, Mandi, Shimla, and Chamba districts. Police records show that 50,000 acres in Kullu Valley alone is under cannabis cultivation.

Apart from the notorious ‘Magic Valley’ in the upper reaches of Malana, some 50 km from Kullu, easy availability of narcotics in McLeodganj and surrounding areas in Kangra district and Karsol in Kullu district has turned these areas into a haven for addicts, say police officials.

The police say ‘chitta’ — an derivative of opium and laced with synthetic drugs — is the new fad among addicts, especially the youth, in the state. Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur has admitted that about 27 per cent Himachal youths are involved in drug abuse.

“Maximum cases are in the younger age group and mostly are addicted to ‘chitta’,” says a senior doctor posted at the Civil Hospital in Kullu. The hospital has been running a de-addiction centre for three years.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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