Why smugglers across India-Bangladesh border prefer cough syrup

The Sundarbans (West Bengal), March 30 (IANS) It’s perhaps the law of unintended consequences. The Indian government had earlier this month banned the cough syrup Phensedyl, among a host of drugs. But the Delhi High Court on March 16 granted an interim injunction to drugmaker Abbott against the government action.

The pro and con of banning a drug would be taken up by the court. But in this part of the world, the border guards were heaving a sigh of relief that they would have to cope with one less headache — a premature sigh, it would now seem.

Because Phensedyl is smuggled across to Bangladesh for its addictive quality.

The codeine-laced cough syrup is consumed there in large quantities, against the recommended small doses, to get a kick.

With the consumption of alcohol prohibited in the Islamic state, Phensedyl addiction has been on the rise. Dhaka had urged New Delhi to ban the drug that is manufactured in India.

With a bottle (100ml/Rs.97 equivalent to $1.5) fetching nearly 10 times its Indian market price in Bangladesh, Phensedyl smuggling has been a lucrative industry involving a number of gangs operating across the over 4,000 km Indo-Bangladesh frontier.

West Bengal, which shares over 2,200 km of the border with the neighbour, has been a major area of operation for the illicit trade.

Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) South West Region Commander Khondoker Farid Hassan said a ban on the drug in India would play a large role in improving bilateral relations between the two countries and their border guards.

“Already banned in Bangladesh, the call for banning it by India has been there for some time. We are very happy that it has now materialised. It’s a very welcome move by India,” Hassan had told IANS before the court order came.

At the joint exercise between the Border Security Force (BSF) and the BGB at the Sundarbans, Hassan had hoped that the smuggling of the drug would come down drastically.

Hassan, along with BSF Inspector General Sandeep Salunke, recently supervised the “Sundarbans Maitri” three-day drill on board the Kamakhya floating border outpost at the “T – Junction” riverine area of Sundarbans where the forces jointly conducted search operation on cargo vessels on their way to Bangladesh on the Ichhamati river.

According to the Bangladesh Department of Narcotics Control (DNC), Chittagong, Dhaka, Khulna and Rajshahi are widely affected by Phensedyl addiction, with Rajshahi being the major market for the drug’s clandestine trade.

According to surveys by rights activists and organisations, over two million of the 166,280,712 Bangladeshi population is addicted to drugs, mostly Phensedyl.

Considered a serious offence in Bangladesh, Phensedyl peddling is punishable with life imprisonment.

As per the latest report by the DNC, over 700 litres of Phensedyl was seized across Bangladesh between 2010 and 2015, with 384 litres being seized in 2015 alone.

In the last three years, the BSF had seized nearly 700,000 bottles of Phensedyl worth about Rs.7 crore. Not only is Phensedyl smuggled across the border, several units had come up in South Bengal to illegaly manufacture the spurious syrup.

The BSF had destroyed several such units near the South Bengal frontier.

BSF’s Salunke said that to attract the provisions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, the seizure had to be a minimum of 10,000 Phensedyl bottles.

The ban would of course have helped.

But now the two forces across the international border would be watching with interest the legal battle unfolding in the courts.

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