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India: Illicit Drug Trade And Associated Challenges

Published: 14th Mar, 2019

  • According to a report released by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), India is one of the major hubs for illicit drug trade.
  • The report stated that Opiates, cannabis and amphetamine-type stimulants remain the main substances of concern in the region, with record levels of cannabis herb seized in India in 2017.



  • According to a report released by the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB), India is one of the major hubs for illicit drug trade.
  • The report stated that Opiates, cannabis and amphetamine-type stimulants remain the main substances of concern in the region, with record levels of cannabis herb seized in India in 2017.


In 2017, authorities in India dismantled two illicit pharmacies selling drugs over the Internet. This incidence brought to the light enormous “demand” that is often neglected within the society. Non-medical use of pharmaceutical drugs, containing controlled substances, continues to be prevalent.

Global trend of purchasing drugs over the Internet, particularly on ‘dark net’ trading platforms using crypto currencies has already spread across South Asia, including India.


Drug trafficking is a global illicit trade involving the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of substances which are subject to drug prohibition laws. Issues concerning Drug Trafficking can be divided into two broad categories:

  1. The Demand Side (addiction factor)
  2. The Supply Side (Golden Triangle and Golden Crescent)

Demand Side:

  • According to professor at department of psychiatry, at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences in Bengaluru, drug addiction should be treated as an economic issue in India
  • Drugs follow disposable income. People started taking cocaine to reduce stress and anxiety about work.
  • That being said, another categorization would be that of “posh” vs. “poor” drug supply.
  • “Poor” denotes here low cost tobacco based substances which are enhancing the spread of cancer in the Country.
  • Posh factors in Opiates, cannabis and amphetamine-type stimulants.

Supply Side

The rise in cocaine busts reflects a wider trend in drug seizures across the country. India has become a trafficking center for other countries. The cocaine supplied here is not only meant for India; traffickers exploit this route to enter other countries.

Moreover, India would not be used as a supply route if there wasn’t already a high level of interest in the drug within the country.

Golden Triangle: It is the area where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong Rivers.

Golden Crescent is the name given to one of Asia's two principal areas of illicit opium production (with the other being the Golden Triangle), located at the crossroads of Central, South, and Western Asia. This space overlaps three nations, Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, whose mountainous peripheries define the crescent.

There is another dimension to this drug trade. Drug trafficking also poses a challenge to India's security.

  • Being closer to the Golden Crescent and Golden Triangle, India has been vulnerable to the trafficking of narcotics and drugs such as heroin, hashish, and synthetic drugs produced in these areas.

The trends observed at Golden Crescent and Golden Triangle paint a different picture

  • The quantity of the trafficked heroin through the India-Myanmar border into the Northeast has always been very small as it is meant for local consumption only.
  • The Golden Crescent, on the other hand, has remained the primary source of trafficked heroin in the country since the early eighties when traffickers started rerouting heroin from this region through India following the Iran-Iraq war.

The end of the war and reopening of the Balkan trafficking route in the late eighties resulted in a dip in heroin trafficking in the country.

But, it again picked up in 2012. Increased production of opium in Afghanistan, greater domestic demand in India, and connivance of state government officials and border guarding forces together contributed towards this increase in heroin trafficking, especially in the Punjab sector (root cause behind ‘udta Punjab’).

Apart from narcotics, India has been experiencing a significant rise in the use of psychotropic substances and medicinal preparations among addicts since late 1990.

Stringent narcotics and drugs laws, rising price of heroin and easy availability of synthetic drugs have propelled this shift.

Amphetamine Type Stimulant (ATS) and Methamphetamine produced in large quantities in South-east Asia especially in the Golden Triangle are trafficked into India through the porous India-Myanmar border.

India also manufactures a lot of synthetic drugs and precursor chemicals which are smuggled out of the country:

  • Pharmaceutical preparations containing Dextropropoxyphene and Codeine are trafficked to the neighboring countries
  • Ketamine is yet another medicinal preparation which is smuggled out of India
  • Ephedrine and Pseudoephedrine used for manufacturing ATS and Acetic Anhydride used for the manufacturing of heroin are smuggled into the Golden Crescent and Golden Triangle from India

This two-way illegal movement of narcotics and drugs pose a significant threat to the national security. The breach of the international borders of the country by drug traffickers implies that the same routes could be used for smuggling in weapons as well as terrorists into the country.

The nexus between drug traffickers, criminal networks and terrorists are another potent threat. Composite seizures of drugs and arms by security forces at the borders points to a close nexus between drug traffickers and anti-national elements. 

The money generated by the illegal sale of narcotics and drugs is used for financing terrorist activities. The Kashmiri, Sikh and Northeast militants have used drug money to finance their ‘struggle’ against the Indian state.

Social angle of the Drug trade:

Large-scale availability of narcotics and drugs encourages demand for narcotics and drugs by domestic population. Consumption of which produces dysfunctional behavior thereby creating law and order problem in the society.

This causes a huge economic drain on the country through loss of production and diversion of resources for caring and rehabilitation of the drug addicts (Demographic dividend turning into burden).

On a bigger note, drug trafficking also has a direct bearing on the political process as drug cartels subvert, penetrate and further corrupt state institutions to control the illegal drug trade.

How is India finding solution?

Given these challenges, India has adopted a comprehensive approach to reduce supply as well as demand for narcotics and drugs. The approach comprises four elements:

  1. Enacting legislation such as the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS)
  2. Ensuring physical security of the borders and coasts by strengthening patrolling and surveillance
  3. Eliciting cooperation from neighbors by entering into several bilateral and multilateral agreements on prevention of illicit traffic of drugs and chemicals
  4. Co-operating with voluntary organizations in the endeavor to prevent abuse of narcotics and synthetic drugs.

Despite these measures, prevention of drug trafficking in India has achieved only partial success.

Low priority accorded to the prevention of drug trafficking is one of the main reasons why concerned organization do not display required urgency in apprehending drug peddlers and subsequent investigation.

Turf wars between various agencies, corruption, intelligence failure, lack of manpower and infrastructure, poor drug detection training, and procedural delays are other factors that hamper the effectiveness of the country’s drug prevention efforts.

Since drug trafficking has serious ramifications on the country’s security, it is time India pays much more attention to the problem and formulates robust measures to overcome the loopholes in its strategy for prevention of drug trafficking.

Learning Aid

Practice Question:

Breach of the international borders by drug traffickers implies that the same routes could be used for smuggling weapons and terrorists into the country. Elaborate in context of India.

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