Srinagar: A court on Monday, February 13, rejected the bail application of a “well organised gang” of five Army personnel and four civilians who were arrested last month for allegedly running a narcotics racket along the Line of Control in Kupwara, an epicentre of cross-border drug trafficking in Kashmir.
Rejecting the bail application, the court of the additional district and sessions judge, Kupwara, ruled that the Army personnel “who are protectors of the society became perpetrators…in the illegal sale and procurement of drugs” and their custodial investigation was necessary to arrest other suspected members of the gang.
Citing a 2022 judgement of the Supreme Court and two judgement of J&K and Ladakh high court, the court, while turning down the bail application, ruled that the “menace of drugs is on [the] increase” in Jammu and Kashmir and “main sufferer of this menace is younger generation of society…[who are] being put on the peril of destruction”.
The accused Army personnel have been identified as Naib-Subedar Puran Singh and driver Anil Kumar, both residents of Reasi in Jammu, Sepoy Sushil Kumar, a resident of Jammu’s Samba district, and Naiks Waseem Ahmad Mir, Mohammad Shafiq Khan and Ishfaq Ahmad Tanoli. All of them are posted in the 175 Engineering (Territorial Army) Wing headquartered in Panzgam area of Kupwara.
Four civilians, who have been arrested in the case, are Army porter Mashkoor Sheikh, Mohammad Yousaf Kothari and Saleem Sheikh, all residents of Kupwara, and Mohammad Imran Teli, a resident of Bandipora district in north Kashmir.
The accused have been booked under Section 8 (production, possession, trade, etc of narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances), 20 (punishment for contravention in relation to cannabis plant and cannabis), 27-A (punishment for consumption of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance) and 29 (punishment for abetment and criminal conspiracy) under The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.
Except Shafiq, all of them had applied for bail.
Objecting to the bail application, the prosecution told the court that the proceeds of narcotics trade are being channeled for funding terror activists in Jammu and Kashmir and it was “necessary to conduct a fair and thorough investigation” into the case.
“The accused persons have tried to malign the image of the Army which is safeguarding the territory of the nation and combating narco-terrorism. The accused have not only jeopardised the security of the country but are instrumental in destroying the next generation of the nation,” prosecutor Dar Rashid, representing the state, told the court.
The prosecution told the court that during investigation, Shafiq was trapped by J&K Police on December 25 last year during which 10 grams of heroin and Rs 48,000 were recovered from his possession. In a disclosure made before an executive magistrate during investigation, Shafiq claimed that three more Army personnel – Singh, Kumar and Waseem, were also involved in the racket.
While the defence for the accused told the court on Monday that the statements made by the accused in terms of Section 67 of the NDPS Act were not admissible as evidence, the court rejected the argument, observing that the investigation of the case was necessary so that the menace of drug abuse is “curbed with an iron hand.”
According to police, Shafiq took a bank loan of Rs 10 lakh, out of which he transferred Rs 5 lakh into the account of Waseem for allegedly arranging drugs from Kupwara’s Karnah region which falls on the Line of Control in north Kashmir.
In recent years, the north Kashmir region has emerged as an epicentre of cross-LoC drug trafficking from Pakistan and Afghanistan with narcotics and psychotropic drugs worth hundreds of crores seized by investigations agencies.
Both the Army brass and police in J&K – including Northern Commander Lieutenant General U. Dwivedi, and J&K Police chief Dilbag Singh – have said that the proceeds of the drug trade are being funnelled to fund terror activities in J&K, calling it “a challenge only second to militancy.”
During investigation, Waseem told police that after receiving the cash, he was asked by Singh and Kumar to contact Ishfaq and Mashkoor to procure a drug consignment. The prosecution told the court that Wasim transferred the cash into Ishfaq’s account and Mashkoor procured the consignment from Saleem.
After procuring the drugs, Waseem allegedly handed it to Kumar who in turn gave it to Sushil Sharma, the sixth Army personnel involved in the case. The prosecution told the court that Shafiq collected the consignment from Sushil in Jammu.
On his return to Kupwara, Singh allegedly asked Shafiq to hand over the narcotics package to Imran in Srinagar who in turn allegedly gave it to Kothari, one of the four civilians arrested in the case. Shafiq, however, allegedly kept a portion of heroin – which landed him in the police net. Rs 48,000, which he procured from its sale, were also recovered at the time of his arrest.
The prosecution told the court that the accused were involved in a “well-organised drug mafia gang”. If found guilty, the accused can face imprisonment of not less than 10 years and a heavy fine, or both.
Objecting to the bail application, the prosecution submitted that the custody of the accused was “very necessary to bust the drug mafia and to expose other members of the gang in question.”
“The proceeds of the illicit trade in question are utilised for terrorism and it is necessary to conduct a fair and thorough investigation for cracking the module, hence custody (of) all the accused persons with the state becomes imperative,” the prosecution told the court.
The prosecution said that J&K is affected “directly or indirectly due to narco terrorism” and the investigation of the case was at its initial stage, “There is a likelihood that the drug mafia involved in the case will destroy the evidence and harm human lives witness to the case,” the prosecution said, while objecting to the bail application.
In recent years, a number of cross-border drug rackets have been busted by J&K Police and other security forces along the Line of Control in north Kashmir and banned substances such as heroin worth hundreds of crores has been recovered.
“Kupwara is emerging as a central point of narcotic and psychotropic substances trade from where it is transported to other parts of the country and outside. To demoralise hardened criminals involved in narco-terrorism it becomes imperative to send across a strong message that the justice system prefers security of community over personal liberty of drug peddlers busy in destroying the next generation of the nation. Hence the accused person doesn’t deserve concession of bail,” the prosecution told the court.
Edited by Soumashree Sarkar.