By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Five per cent of global cocaine users are already in India, and hence the surge in the global cocaine supply is a matter of great concern. Cocaine is being trafficked through new hubs and expanded criminal networks which led to its dramatic comeback following an initial slowdown caused during the pandemic lockdowns and restrictions in 2020. Expanding cocaine market in Asia is an additional concern.
“Global Report on Cocaine 2023: Local dynamics, global challenges released by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime” has warned that Criminal networks are now diversifying with alarming results alongside record levels of production, moving beyond the pandemic and its related global shutdown, which had appeared to have temporarily hobbled the illicit trade. “The report details how coca cultivation soared 35 per cent from 2020 to 2021, a record high and the sharpest year-to-year increase since 2016.”
“The surge in the global cocaine supply should put all of us on high alert,” UNODC Executive Director Ghada Waly said. “The potential for the cocaine market to expand in Africa and Asia is a dangerous reality.”
The report presents a new challenge that is likely to emerge in India since a household survey of drug use conducted across India in 2018, estimated an annual prevalence of 0.11 per cent of the general population aged 10-75. It was 0.18 per cent among males and 0.01 per cent among females. Although these levels are well below the global average on a per capita basis, as the same study points out, they translate into1.1 million past-year users, or 5 per cent of the global number of users.
High level of past-year prevalence were found in two states on the northern borders – Arunachal Pradesh (3 per cent) in the northeast and Punjab in the northwest (0.7 per cent) – and in some western administrative regions, namely Daman and Diu (1.4 per cent), Dadra and Nagar Haveli (0.8 per cent), Maharashtra (including the city of Mumbai) and the archipelago of Lakshadweep (0.6 per cent), which is also a tourist destination.
According to the media sources, the Narcotics Control Bureau of India has concerns about cocaine present in Mumbai in particular. As of 2017, provision of treatment services for drug use in India was dominated by opioids (55 per cent) and cannabis (36 per cent) as the primary drug used, with cocaine accounting for only 0.3 per cent.
It appears, the report says, that the domestic market in India is usually supplied by small shipments. In 2019, seizures of incoming cocaine consignments, amounting to 33 kg in total, were mainly from air and land channels, with none reported from sea channels.
In 2020, the restrictions on international air travel may have spurred an increase in the use of mail, which accounted for more than one third of inbound consignments by weight; nevertheless trafficking by air accounted for the remainder.
However, in 2021, sea transportation was the predominant mode of transportation, accounting for 95 per cent of inbound seizures by weight. This is likely driven by a large (303 kg), intelligence-led seizure, documented in open sources, made in Tuticorin port in South India from a consignment which had originated in Panama and transited through Antwerp (Belgium) and Colombo (Sri Lanka).
Based on the most recent official reporting from Indian authorities, the report says, the most important countries of departure for cocaine seized in India in 2021 are Panama, South Africa, Ethiopia (in that order) and Brazil (via Qatar, in 2020).India also appears to play a minor role within the global cocaine market as a transit country for cocaine, or related products, both to neighbouring countries and to more distant destinations, the report said.
However, it is notable that, even though India is not a major cocaine consumption country and is geographically removed from the cocaine production zones of South America, some trafficking through India appears to involve raw or intermediate “cocaine-type” products.
Canadian authorities have assessed that India was the second most frequently occurring departure country (after Peru but ahead of Colombia) for intermediate cocaine products in the form of coca paste (PBC) or refined cocaine base seized in Canada in 2021.
Similarly, India was identified by authorities in South Africa (in 2020, in first place) and Australia (in 2017, in third place) as a departure country for trafficking coca leaf. Moreover, in March 2019, 31.5 kg of cocaine in base form were seized from a vessel in the Port of Bar (Montenegro), having departed from India.
India has also been identified as a departure or a transit country for trafficking of cocaine salts, in 2019, by Sri Lanka and Nepal. Moreover, aside from these incidents previously mentioned, in Montenegro, several other specific instances have been documented of non-negligible quantities of cocaine seized as they were about to depart from India, or in destination countries from shipments or individuals having departed from India; from 2019onwards, the destination countries included Australia, Belgium, Italy, and Sri Lanka. The largest of these involved 771 kg seized in January 2021 in Belgium, having departed from India. (IPA Service)