Srinagar: Abdul Rehman and Mustafa Hussain (names), friends and business partners, have been living a `respectable’ life in a posh residential area of Srinagar, living the rags-to-riches story and offering a peep into how Kashmir is increasingly becoming drug cultivation and trafficking hub.
Not long ago, Rehman and Hussain, worked as truck drivers transporting fruits from Kashmir to Delhi markets. It was a hand-to-mouth situation, they said. Tired of their job, the duo once visited a place in South Delhi to try weed. They got addicted to it and also “stumbled upon an idea” that changed their lives forever.
“We had to pay a hefty amount for a few grams of weed. An idea struck us that why we don’t try this business ourselves,” Rehman told Kashmir Reader.
“We had seen enough poverty. My father had to take me off school as he couldn’t pay my fee. We now knew how to come out of poverty. Although it was a dangerous and illegal business but we wanted to take chances,” he added.
A year later in 2009, the duo met a drug peddler Bilal from Bhijbehara, who used to operate in South Kashmir. Bilal offered to provide them high quality seeds for cultivating poppy.
“We shared our idea with Bilal. We wanted to cultivate poppy and sell drugs. We gave him Rs 1 lakh for seeds after taking a bank loan. Bilal became our partner. We took a risk and succeeded,” said Rehman.
Abdul Rehman owned some land around his two-storey house in the outskirts of Anantnag. He also converted his backyard into a green house to cultivate poppy.
“We were very nervous that we might be caught but no one paid attention towards us. We cultivated poppy or what is known as black gold and it took us three patient months to get the crop. We felt that two kanals of land was not enough for this business. So I raised the crop on the slab of my house too,” Rehman added.
With crop in their hands, the duo did not know how to process it. They found a solution soon as a processing machine was smuggled from Himachal. Some labourers too were brought in from outside the state to process the poppy crop. “It took us three months to see the results. Our first yield was about 20 kilos of high quality drugs having market value in millions,” Rehman claimed. The duo sold part of the produce locally but it did not fetch them the desired money.
“It took us another year to plan and organise everything. We spent a lot of money on construction and procuring machines,” said Mustafa, who lives in Abdul Rehman’s neighbourhood, but has no land of his own. A school dropout, Mustafa started earning at 18 to support his family of six– mother, two younger brothers and two sisters.
“During the first year, we earned Rs 3-4 lakh, which was a good amount. But we wanted to earn millions and that was only possible if we smuggled drugs outside the state,” Mustafa added. Their biggest challenge however was how to do it.
It was Bilal who came up with an idea. “He packed all the produce in five tyres and smuggled it to Delhi. We sold it for 12 lakhs,” Mustafa said. Once cash started flowing, they brought their own cars to smuggle the drugs to Delhi. “Once we were caught by Punjab police. We had drugs worth Rs 15 lakh with us and we did not want to go to jail. We paid four lakhs to police and got away,” claimed Mustafa.
As the years passed by, all the partners amassed wealth owing to the flourishing business of drug trafficking. They built palatial houses in Srinagar, bought expensive cars and amassed wealth. But what they don’t have is peace. “We are always worried about being caught. That gives us sleepless nights,” Rehman said. Our neighbours see us with suspicion though they don’t dare to ask questions,” he said.
Poppy cultivation is prohibited under Section 8 of NDPS Act, 1985, except under a licence issued by Central Bureau of Narcotics. At present, opium cultivation is permitted by Union government in selected tracts in three traditionally opium growing states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh. However, Rehman and Mustafa feel that even though it was illegal to grow poppy in Kashmir, but as long as the demand was good, they will cultivate and sell it.