Neighbors of BCN headquarters with drug infested slum in Delhi
The headquarters of the All India Narcotics Control Bureau (Branch) at RK Puram in Delhi was in a forest environment. On the other side of its perimeter wall, however, is Ambedkar Basti, a slum struggling with rampant drug addiction and smuggling.
While the NCB has been in the headlines for nearly a month now in the wake of Aryan Khan’s cruise drug affair, the focus is on how it failed to resolve the issue. pressing problem right behind his branch office for years. Ambedkar Basti is infamous for taking in drug addicts and being a hotbed of drug trafficking.
At first glance, Ambedkar Basti’s Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar Park in the upscale town of RK Puram in South Delhi is a green expanse with good playgrounds and rows of trees. South Delhi’s elites play on one side while the other, bordering the Basti, is dotted with shady crowds in groups. Exploring the huts at this end of the park, opposite the wall bordering the DG Staff camp of the CRPF, one is struck by the irony of the recent movements of the NCB.
Ambedkar Basti (highlighted in red) is located just behind the General Directorate of the Narcotics Control Bureau. Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar Park is infamous for hosting drug addicts, especially at night.
Drug remains all around the Basti
According to locals, illegal alcohol, smack and weed are the most popular intoxicants in the slum. There are nooks and crannies in the area, especially in the park, where drugs are sold and consumed. One of these barracks was located right at the entrance to the Basti, barely a minute’s walk from the BCN headquarters. Embellished by politicians from outside, this barracks reflects the truth of Basti. Inside, you can see aluminum foil all around, with dozens of burnt matches on the ground. Brown sugar, or smack, as it is called on the streets, is mostly eaten here.
India abuses heroin (a derivative of brown sugar) more than any other country in South Asia. According to a UN report, “One million heroin addicts are registered in India, and unofficially there are up to five million”. Brown sugar accounts for a large part of this heroin use.
Just two days before I arrived in Ambedkar Basti, a fight broke out in the park, residents said. âMost of the people who live here are economically weak and become addicted to drugs. The crime follows. We see cases of fighting day after day in the park. Every week or so we hear somewhere, something has been stolen or someone has been assaulted. The park is not safe for women after sunset. People gamble, use drugs in the open and create a mess, âsaid Suresh Chauhan, a social worker who grew up in Basti. Chauhan, who has now moved to a nearby urban settlement, added that Kejriwal’s government promised to install CCTV cameras in the Basti, but has yet to comply. Other settlements with low crime rates have already installed CCTV cameras.
Outlook approached RK Puram Tokas’ Aam Aadmi Party MP Pramila Tokas for his comment. She said: âThe installation of CCTV cameras throughout the RK Puram constituency has proceeded at a predetermined pace. Due to the pandemic, work has slowed down. But now PWD officials have interviewed Ambedkar Basti in consultation with residents and cameras will be installed there between November 12 and 25.
Asked about her responsibility to solve the problem as a local lawmaker, she replied, âI wrote letters to the police highlighting the drug problem. I have also raised this issue on several occasions in the district committee, most recently last month, highlighting complaints of sale and use of illegal narcotic substances in the constituency groups of RK Puram. But no positive developments are visible, despite my efforts.
‘SHO to meri jeb mein hai’
Social workers at Basti also filed written complaints with the police. âIn our last complaint, which was signed by around 150 people, we notified around 25 to 30 people involved in drug trafficking inside the slum. The police used this complaint to extort money from them, without taking any serious action. They are still on the run, âsays Jaswinder Pehelwan, a social worker and opinion-maker in the region who also heads an organization called Bali Sena. âNow the drug dealers and even their family members say things like ‘SHO to meri jeb mein hai’ (The station officer is in our pocket),â he adds.
âThere are 25 to 30 people who are at the head of the drug trade here. When the drug-related problems escalate, leading mainly to violence in the slum, one or two of them stay low, but the drug flow continues as usual, âsays Suresh Chauhan.
SHO Alpana Sharma from RK Puram Police Station said: âNo recent complaints have been made to the police on this matter. I took charge here just 10 days ago. As soon as such an incident is discovered, the police will take vigorous corrective action. We make efforts to prevent people, especially children, from engaging in such activities. Since I am new to this area, I will need some time to understand this problem and work on it.
Alcohol from UP, Haryana smuggled into the Basti
On the floor inside the hut, along with the usual brown sugar leaves, were several orange colored plastic bottle caps. These could also be seen lying all around the Basti.
Social workers Jaswinder Pehelwan (middle) and Suresh Chauhan (right) standing in front of a hut in Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar park behind the NCB headquarters. This cabin is infamous for housing drug addicts.
The low quality, cheap alcohol known locally as Santra / Orange is popular here. Alcohol, unlike other narcotic substances, is consumed in the open. This is why the inhabitants of Basti complain of alcohol, when asked about drugs. Bottles of santra can be seen hanging out in the park and inside the Basti drains.
For children, drug trafficking is a career option
âThe school dropout rate in Ambedkar Basti is very high. As soon as they start to reach Class IX and X, many drop out, âsaid Waris Masih, a social worker who has been active at Ambedkar Basti for more than 20 years. Waris, who is the founding administrator of the NGO Vision India, has long led initiatives to support out-of-school education and skills development for children in various slums in Delhi. He said: âThe children of Ambedkar Basti are not very ambitious. They have two career goals: to become a cleaning staff at MCD or to become dholwalas and playing dhols at weddings. Those who cannot do either are pushed into odd jobs like joining politicians. These choices are heavily drug driven, as addicts are looking for quick cash to buy them. “
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Waris’ efforts at Ambedkar Basti were halted because the area was long marked as a red zone. Even then, the drug supply continued. âDrug traffickers used children to smuggle drug packets (puriyas) through the barricades. We saw increased restlessness of children near the barricades and checked their pockets. That’s how we got it, âsays Jaswinder.
Speaking to the people of Basti, one can see that they are extremely concerned about their children. Children who become dependent not only harm their health but also destabilize their families. Children as young as nine years old use drugs. “If the police are not able to control the problem, they should at least consider saving our children from this evil,” said one resident.
Behind the drugs, the problems of caste and class
In Ambedkar Basti, which has a population of around 8,000, almost everyone is Dalit, with a large population of manual scavengers living there. One of the most stressful and dehumanizing jobs, it involves cleaning out dry latrines and septic tanks, and often this leads many residents to drink and use drugs to escape. Trends in drug abuse can be seen wherever there are similar demographics. Even MP Pramila Tokas confirmed that this is a problem not only in Ambedkar Basti, but also in other slums of RK Puram. Areas like Ekta Vihar, KD Colony and Bhanwar Singh camp were mentioned when we asked locals about the drug problem. In addition, residential areas of different government departments are located all around Basti but no drugs are sold in these areas.
A headline-hungry agency for a thrill-hungry nation?
No one mentioned in this story has ever tried to write directly to the BCN regarding the drug problem. Even the curiosity of social workers peaked when they first discovered that their slum is right next to the supreme government agency responsible for drug control across the country.
The NCB is mostly in the news due to its raids on Bollywood celebrities, landing them at most a few grams of banned substances, but a lot of publicity. Meanwhile, just behind the NCB headquarters, banned substances are traded and consumed every day by the kilograms.
The Narcotics Control Bureau has been approached for comment. The copy will be updated as soon as they respond.