In the wee hours of October 27, 2021, the Andhra Pradesh police seized cannabis weighing 2000 kgs worth Rs 2 crore at Chintoor junction (border of East Godavari and Vishakapatnam). The consignment hailing from Orissa was heading towards Hyderabad.
The AP Police arrested 3 persons, including advocate Naina Rama Rao –a resident of Khammam district of Telangana. This seizure has now added up to the 3 lakh tons of confiscated Ganja being smuggled via Andhra Pradesh route.
Andhra Pradesh police have declared a war against substance abuse, narcotics. Law enforcing agencies are bracing up for a major drive against Ganja smugglers, dealers, and cultivators in November 2021.
In an Exclusive Interview with NewsMeter (NM), AP Director General of Police Damodar Gautam Sawang detailed how cops are using data analytics and artificial intelligence to crack down on cannabis. Excerpts
NM: Why is cannabis smuggling still a perennial issue?
DGP: To begin with, the first case was booked in 1973 in the Vizag agency. Ganja cultivation along the Andhra-Orissa order is a half a century-old issue, may be more. Most of the cannabis is cultivated in naxal-infested areas along the Andhra –Odisha border.
It is pertinent to note that the Ganja cultivation is spread across border area of Andhra Pradesh-Odisha. Only one district of Andhra Pradesh is affected by illegal Ganja cultivation. To be precise, five Mandals falling under Vizag agency have reported cannabis cultivation. Smuggling is not an 'Andhra phenomenon' alone. It is predominantly in Andhra -Odisha border. Over the years, the menace has overtaken Kerala's and Manali's grass.
Off late, it has fashionable among the youth and others to consume ganja and one of the reasons being, Internet and social media.
NM: What steps have been to root out cannabis cultivation?
DGP: We have set up a Special Enforcement Bureau (SEB) headed by an Inspector General and two DIG rank officers. It is the first step to crack down on illegal cultivation and smuggling.
The SEB focuses on banned substances including narcotics and liquor. Talking about statistics, in the last 2 years over 5000 peddlers, smugglers, and consumers have been arrested in connection to Ganja. Three lakh tonnes of Ganja have been seized in less than two years.
Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy has directed enforcement wings to come up with an operational plan specifically targeting 'Ganja cultivation' and trafficking. Teams are working to identify the land where Ganja is cultivated, especially in the forest area and agency areas. They will raise awareness and frame a strategy to deal with smugglers.
NM: Why hasn't state police been able to destroy the Ganja crop despite manpower and resources?
DGP: There are multiple reasons. Ganja cultivation is mostly found in difficult terrains. Inaccessibility, Maoist infestation, extortion mafia are the first line of enemies. Over the years, smugglers from Delhi, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Harayana, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Chhattisgarh have established a cultivation hub. A large number of smugglers involved in the supply chain are non-locals. The nexus is deep-rooted, wide and mind-blogging.
Since we have declared a war against Narcotics trafficking, November will see a lot of action against the cultivation. The crop will be ready for harvest in the mid of November, which would be the ideal time to launch action. AP police are working with multiple agencies like Forest, Agriculture, ITDA- Integrated Tribal Development Authority and Revenue to destroy the crop. We are also coordinating with the Narcotics Control Bureau and Directorate of Revenue Intelligence.
80 acres of cannabis destroyed through 'Parivartana' in #Visakhapatnam Agency Area: A comprehensive program #Parivartana has been conceived with the Police Department and Special Enforcement being at the forefront & with able support from Revenue, Forest & ITDA officials. 1/3 pic.twitter.com/G6tw0fHfSM— Andhra Pradesh Police (@APPOLICE100) October 30, 2021
80 acres of cannabis destroyed through 'Parivartana' in #Visakhapatnam Agency Area: A comprehensive program #Parivartana has been conceived with the Police Department and Special Enforcement being at the forefront & with able support from Revenue, Forest & ITDA officials. 1/3 pic.twitter.com/G6tw0fHfSM
The second part of the crackdown will be against suppliers – both rear end and front end. AP police have already studied the network, modus operandi and pattern of supply. Once the harvest is completed, Ganja is smuggled by the front-end operators. The third part is legal action. The department is also studying the pending cases and legal process associated with this. We will check the status of the cases, legal process. A meeting in this regard was already held in Rajahmundry.
On November 1, AP police will hold a meeting with different southern states and national agencies like NCB, DRI ,Intelligence Bureau to chalk out a strategy. The meeting is aimed to develop a synergy between different state forces.
One of the important agendas in the meeting will be to inform the respective state police about the network, modus operandi and absconders. We will also discuss how to fast-track the trial. Under section 47 of the NDPS Act, the enforcement agencies can take the suspects into preventive detention and seize the property.
NM: How is AP police using data analytics and artificial intelligence to target peddlers?
DGP: The department is using satellite imagery to identify the land where cannabis is cultivated. Since a large swathe of land falls in forests, mapping has been completed using different tech tools. A significant amount of work has been done to understand how the network works. This is not a fly-by-night raid or search. But we will systematically work to root out the menace in a sustained manner.
Over 26,000 people were found to be involved in the Ganja trade in the last one decade of whom 5000 are are yet to be arrested. Pertinently, more than half of the accused hail from other states. The majority of them are from Telangana, Karnataka, Delhi, Haryana, UP, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, and Kerala.
Data Analytics is defined as collating the cases, people involved, modus operandi adopted, details of mode of transportation including vehicle numbers, networks - rare end and front end and amount of Ganja seized. Where did the supply originate and where it will be delivered? How many are repeat offenders and vehicles ?
The analytics brings out a pattern and trend. The way the business is conducted, transportation, area of operation, and other distinct patterns.
AP police will soon set up a portal for data informatics. All the case details, the value of drugs seized, quantity, mode of transportation and the number of cases and those involved will be documented online. Information will be pushed to other state holders and be available on a dash-board.
It is going to be a full-throttle sustained systematic drive to root out the menace. AP police are delving deep into the world of Ganja and we are confident of our targets.
NM: What is the extent of Ganja cultivation in Andhra Pradesh?
Please understand the geography. If smugglers had to transport Ganja via Odisha without hitting Andhra Pradesh, they would have to travel 170 km. To take a shortcut and save time, they take the Andhra route.
While only one district of AP is into Ganja cultivation. Accessibility is the main problem. It would take two days to trek 40-50 km through hilly terrain to reach the area where the cannabis is cultivated. Pertinently, Ganja cultivation is carried out in the Naxal-infested areas.
Police are also working with Mandal and Village revenue officials, Panchayat secretaries, Sarpanches, and district collectors to destroy the crop, in a comprehensive manner. The Andhra Pradesh government has given a mandate, accorded priority to this initiative.