Representative Image | Photo: AFP
Kerala finds itself enmeshed in a complex cocktail of Gold, Ganja, Girls and Gang Wars.The unabated flow of smuggled gold from abroad into the State is at once mind boggling and mystifying. The economics behind the whole exercise defies conventional wisdom and economics. Armies of assorted carriers are arriving in every international flight landing in the State, concealing and camouflaging the contraband cargo in ingenious ways and methods. The skeletal Customs staff and their random seizures do not deter the carriers in any manner nor does the presence of agents from several Intelligence Agencies at the airports. Once the contraband goods cross the Customs barrier and enters the State, there are yet again, a host of State Government enforcement departments and Intelligence agencies operating across the length and breadth of the State. Yet, unknown to everyone and undetected, the contraband regularly reaches the unidentified syndicates. Thereafter, it mingles into a fathomless underground economy, the complexity of which there is only a vague idea. There is a seamless connectivity involving Hawala transactions, Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN), dubious cash transactions, drug trade and the spectre of growing religious fundamentalism. The contours of this complex illegal trade remains unstudied, unprobed and hence unknown. Kerala makes a perfect case study for money laundering involving placement, layering and integration. There is sufficient reason to infer that this clandestine gold import is also involved in the booming Ganja trade.
The quantity of Ganja and other psychotropic substances entering the State through inter-state borders appears disturbingly high. Statistics and data in the possession of different enforcement agencies clearly reveal a spiralling trend in Ganja and psychotropic substances usage. Youth are being lured into drug consumption by a well-organized network of peddlers, hawkers as well as students comprising of failed, dropouts and those residing independently i.e. away from parents and institution hostels. Youngsters studying in expensive private schools, deemed to be Universities, expensive medical and engineering colleges are specifically targeted, as they have lots of loose cash to spare and also lead lavish lifestyles. Over 21,363 cases have been booked under the NDPS Act in the last three years, which indicates the gravity of the problem. This has prompted the Kerala Government to moot a proposal to the Centre to make the NDPS Act more stringent as drug cases are increasing exponentially.
Similarly, the lucrative liquor trade is another sordid dimension in the sale of intoxicants. Huge consumption of liquor by every strata of society has made this business as the most profitable enterprise. Addiction to liquor and drugs leads to psychological depression, domestic violence, divorce and many tragic cases end in suicide. Kerala figures among the top five States and Union Territories with high suicide rates in the country, reporting 8,556 suicides during 2019. Another ugly manifestation is that both Ganja and liquor have created another ‘G’ factor, namely Girls.
A new breed of ambitious and brash femme fatales is flirting in the corridors of power, hooking politicians and bureaucrats with charming ease. Rules and regulations simply disintegrate before oozing sexy belles, and their honey traps. The high degree of sexual frustration among senior bureaucrats and politicians, and their unabashed willingness to compromise, has grave security implications. Prostitution rackets in the guise of escorts, guides and liaison officers are entrapping young college girls and housewives. Success when measured in terms of wealth accumulated can make any society morally bankrupt. Today’s success stories are only about those who amassed wealth overnight. No questions are asked by anyone about the source of wealth. Hence many youngsters view the drug trade as a one stop destination to quick money making. The get-rich-quick mentality does not augur well for the future well-being of society. There is a need to educate students about ethical living, as also ethical means of livelihood. Students must be taken on educative tours to drug- deaddiction centres so that they can see for themselves the havoc drugs can do to human lives.
Another offshoot of the Ganja- Liquor-Gold-Girls nexus is the spiralling domestic violence, rapes, prostitution rackets, psychological depression and the consequent high degree of suicide rates in the State. A tragic consequence is the prevalence of high divorce rate in Kerala. Traditional family structures have disintegrated and the nuclear families are unable to withstand the pressures of new social developments and emerging trends that are antithetical to domestic harmony. The National Crime Records Bureau statistics puts Kerala in the fifth place in the country when it comes to crime rate against women and children. Family Courts in the State are witnessing large number of divorce cases being filed.
When gold, ganja and girls come together, this volatile mix can generate violence of all kinds. No wonder, that one reads of gang-wars, otherwise known as quotation gangs in Kerala. Hired thugs settle private disputes or indulge in extortion to make an easy living. Youngsters opt to become hired thugs to make easy money instead of making an honest living.
Unless we control the Gold-Ganja trade enveloping the State, the situation is going to be pretty grim. Presently, there are four international airports and one major sea-port open to international traffic. In the name of passenger facilitation, checking by Customs is very limited, thereby encouraging carrier traffic to smuggle many banned and prohibited goods. Because of substantial gold seizures at the airports there is a presumption that only gold is being smuggled. What if the illegal importation includes arms and ammunition? Foreign intelligence agencies keep constantly monitoring the vigil levels at international borders, and it is worrisome that we have lax controls not only in Kerala but all across the 34 international airports, and 13 major ports and 187 minor and intermediate ports, in India. What India needs now is an integration of different services that handle clearances and security at airports and sea-ports. We need a set-up similar to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection which is the primary border control organization. Multiplicity of organizations and their skeletal staff at our international borders and checkpoints is an open invitation for disaster. Hence we need to think of setting up an Indian Customs and Border Protection to better safeguard and patrol our air and seaports, remote locations, mail and cargo centres, and also to perform specialist functions relating to immigration, passenger and cargo clearance and interdict smuggling of banned and prohibited items.
(The author is Director, Indian Institute of Infrastructure Construction, Kollam and former Director General, National Academy of Customs, Indirect Taxes and Narcotics)