The local elephant in the room

| AUGUST 28, 2022, 11:51 PM IST

Goa is once again in the spotlight of the national media after the unfortunate death of BJP leader, actress and Tik Tok star Sonali Phogat after a night out at Goa’s nightclub belt in Anjuna -- and all for the wrong reasons. The fallout has resulted in the arrest of two peddlers -- both locals Dattaprasad Gaonkar and Rama Mandrekar, besides the “owner” of Curlies’ Edwin Nunes. 

Their arrests blew the lid off the involvement of locals in the drug trade -- something that was long known but for many years but was conveniently swept under the carpet while the entire blame was sought to be shifted on entities like Nigerians, Russians and even others like Nepalis, and “outsiders”. 

In fact, that argument was nothing but something that was put out by local politicians and the gangs they protected in order to expand their sphere of influence and eat into territory that was controlled by the rivals. The subtext of that argument was that locals were not really involved as core members of the trade but may perhaps have been facilitators -- a narrative that was happily bought by many until the lid has now blown off the entire operation. 

Locals have been involved in the drug trade for a long time now and local gangs have used their ‘localness’ to their advantage benefiting both from the lack of suspicion as well as political patronage and ability to blame the ‘outsider’ for the trade. If one were to analyse the number of people arrested for possession of drugs over the last few years the accused are overwhelmingly people from outside the state -- either foreigners or Indians whose native place is some other state of India -- almost as if the local police give the local peddlers a free pass.

The police, in response, have promised that they will begin a drive to crackdown on the drug trade -- but if anything such statements come across as hollow. Much like the promised crackdown on drunk driving that was announced in the wake of the four deaths as the car went crashing from the Zuari bridge -- and which lasted only a few days, this crackdown on the drug trade too may end up going the same way. 

No doubt there have been some notable seizures of high worth drugs in the past, however, there is no doubt that the police have been using seizures of low worth drugs like cannabis and ganja to pad up their statistics of drug seizures while the peddlers who deal in high value drugs like cocaine, MDMA, LSD and other synthetic party drugs remain untouched. 

We concede that cracking down on a drug trade that is notoriously complex, constantly evolving and dealing with substances that are incredibly difficult to detect especially for a police force that is underfunded and short staffed. However, it is common knowledge that certain party hotspots are known for the availability of drugs but surprisingly remain away from the police attention. Raids on party venues are few and far in between and the accused are enlarged on bail within a few weeks allowing them to return to the trade. 

This is where Goa Chief Minister Pramod Sawant as home minister needs to step in and stem the rot -- timely transfer of police officers, personally overlooking into the affairs of certain police stations and other such measures. The question is will he step up to it or will he allow it to be business as usual? 

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