The Narcotics Control Bureau’s all-India headquarters (Directorate General) in Delhi’s RK Puram lay in sylvan surroundings. Across its boundary wall, though, is Ambedkar Basti, a slum struggling with rampant drug addiction and smuggling.
With NCB making headlines for nearly a month now as a result of the Aryan Khan cruise drugs case, the spotlight is on how it has failed to address the pressing problem right behind its Directorate General’s office for years. Ambedkar Basti is infamous for hosting drug abusers and being a hotspot for the drug trade.
On the face of it, Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar Park of the Ambedkar Basti, in the posh South Delhi locality of RK Puram, is a green expanse with good playing grounds and rows of trees. Elites of South Delhi play on one end while the other, bordering the Basti, is scattered with shady crowds in groups. Exploring the shacks at that end of the park, opposite to the wall bordering DG Staff camp of CRPF, one is hit by the irony of NCB’s recent moves.
Ambedkar Basti (highlighted in red colour) is located right behind Narcotics Control Bureau’s Directorate General. Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar park is infamous for hosting drug abusers, especially in the night.
Leftovers of drugs all around the Basti
As per locals, illegal alcohol, smack and weed are the most popular intoxicants in the slum. There are nooks and corners in the area, especially in the park, where drugs are sold and consumed. One such shack was right at the entrance of the Basti, barely a minute’s walk away from NCB’s DG. Beautified by politicians on the outside, this shack reflects the truth of the Basti. Inside it, one can see foil paper all around, with tens of matchsticks lying burnt on the ground. Brown sugar, or smack, as it’s called in the street, gets consumed here primarily.
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 as many as five million.” Brown sugar accounts for much of this heroin (ab)use.
Just two days before I arrived at Ambedkar Basti, a fight had broken out in the park, said locals. “Most of the people living here are economically weak, and get addicted to drugs. Crime follows. We see instances of fighting day in and day out in the park. Every week or so, we hear somewhere, something was stolen or somebody was mugged. The park is not safe for women after sunset. People gamble, consume drugs in the open and create a mess,” said Suresh Chauhan, a social worker who grew up in the Basti. Chauhan, who has now shifted to a neighbouring urban colony, added that the Kejriwal government had promised to install CCTV cameras in the Basti, but is yet to fulfil it. Other colonies where crime rates are low, meanwhile, already have CCTV cameras installed.
Outlook approached Aam Aadmi Party MLA from RK Puram Parmila Tokas for her comment. She said, “Installation of CCTV cameras in the entire RK Puram constituency has been going on at a pre-decided pace. Due to the pandemic, work had slowed down. But now, PWD officials have surveyed Ambedkar Basti in consultation with locals and cameras will be installed there between 12 and 25 November.”
When asked about her responsibility to solve the problem as the local legislator, she responded, “I have written letters to police, highlighting the drugs problem. I’ve also raised this issue multiple times in the district committee, most recently last month, highlighting the complaints of sale and consumption of illegal narcotic substances in the clusters of RK Puram constituency. But no positive development can be seen, despite my efforts.”
‘SHO to meri jeb mein hai’
The social workers in the Basti have submitted written complaints to police as well. “In our last complaint, which was signed by around 150 people, we notified about 25-30 such people who were involved in drug trade inside the slum. Police officials used that complaint to extort money from them, without taking any serious action. They are still at large,” says Jaswinder Pehelwan, a social worker and opinion maker in the area who also runs an organisation called Bali Sena. “Now the drug peddlers and even their family members say things like, ‘SHO to meri jeb mein hai’ (The Station House Officer is in our pocket),” he adds.
“There are 25-30 people who are at the helm of the drug trade here. When problems because of drugs escalate, mostly leading to violence in the slum, one or two of them lay low, but the drug circulation keeps on going as usual,” says Suresh Chauhan.
SHO Alpana Sharma of RK Puram police station says, “There haven’t been any recent complaints submitted to police on this issue. I have taken charge here just 10 days ago. As soon as any such incident comes to light, police will take strong corrective steps. We’re making efforts to control people, especially children, not to indulge in such activities. Since I’m new to this area, I’ll need some time to understand this problem and work on it.”
Alcohol from UP, Haryana smuggled into the Basti
On the floor inside the shack, along with usual brown sugar foils, there lay multiple orange coloured 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 shack in Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar Park Behind NCB’s headquarters. This shack is infamous for hosting narcotic substance abusers.
Low quality, cheap alcohol locally known as Santra/Orange is popular here. Alcohol, unlike other narcotic substances, is consumed in the open. That’s why people in the Basti complain of alcohol, when asked about drugs. Bottles of Santra can be seen lying around in the park and inside the Basti’s drains.
Orange/Santra - The smuggled alcohol makes its way into the basti easily. This bottle which has written over it, 'For Sale In Haryana Only' is lying in Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar Park behind NCB Directorate General
For kids, peddling drugs is a career option
“The school dropout rate at Ambedkar Basti is very high. As soon as they start reaching classes IXand X, many drop out,” said Waris Masih, a social worker who has been active in Ambedkar Basti for over 20 years. Waris, who is the founding trustee of the NGO Vision India, has been taking out-of-school educational aid and skill development initiatives for kids of different slums in Delhi for long. He said, “Kids of Ambedkar Basti aren’t very ambitious. They have two career goals—to become cleaning staff at MCD or to become dholwalas and play dhols at marriages. The ones who are not able to do either of these, are pushed towards petty jobs like rallying for politicans. These choices are heavily dictated by drugs, as the addicts look for quick money to buy them.”
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Waris’ efforts in Ambedkar Basti were halted because the area was marked a red zone for long. Even in those times, supply of drugs continued. “Drug peddlers were using kids to smuggle drug sachets (puriyas) across barricades. We found an increased commotion of kids near the barricades and checked their pockets. That’s how we caught on,” Jaswinder says.
Talking to people of the Basti, it can be observed they are extremely concerned about their children. The children who get addicted not only harm their health but also destabilise their families. Children as young as nine years old are consuming drugs. “If police are not able to control the problem, they should at least consider saving our children from this evil,” said a resident.
Rolling paper, high number of burnt matches and a chewing tobacco packet lying on the ground in Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar Park. Marijuana and Brown Sugar are suspected to have been consumed here. In the absence of lighters, children often use matches to heat the foil which holds brown sugar liquid.
Behind drugs, the problems of caste and class
In Ambedkar Basti, which has a population of about 8,000 people, almost everyone is a Dalit, with a large population of manual scavengers living there. One of the most stressful and dehumanising jobs, it includes cleaning dry latrines and septic tanks, and often, this lead many of the residents to drinking and drug abuse as escape. Trends of narcotic abuse can be seen wherever there are similar demographics. Even MLA Parmila Tokas confirmed this is a problem not just 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 drugs problem. Incidentally, residential quarters of different government departments are located all around the Basti but no drugs are sold in those areas.
A scene from Ambedkar Basti. Narcotics Control Bureau’s office is behind the wall on the left.
A headline-hungry agency for a sensation hungry nation?
No person mentioned in this story ever tried writing directly to the NCB regarding the drugs problem. Even the social workers’ curiosity peaked when they discovered for the first time that their slum sits right next to the apex government body responsible for controlling drugs across the nation.
The NCB is mostly in news because of its raids on Bollywood celebrities, landing them at most a couple grams of banned substances, but lods of publicity. Meanwhile, just behind NCB’s headquarter, banned substances are traded and consumed every day by the kilos.
The Narcotics Control Bureau was approached for a comment. The copy will be updated as soon as they respond.