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Monday, May 8, 2017

this punjab village of drug smugglers has a web of escape holes through walls

Cops grapple with holes in drug nest

At Jagraon village, smugglers use escape routes in houses to fox police
Jupinderjit Singh
Tribune News Service
Kul Gehna (Jagraon), May 7 Inhabitants of this “village of drug smugglers”, located close to the Sutlej in Jagraon, are all too aware of the proverb “vanish into thin air” as each of the 35-odd houses built in a cluster has an escape route. The secret passage is used by criminals to escape every time the police come calling. More than 60 FIRs have been registered against its residents over the past two years — nearly 200 of its 300 residents, barring children, have been named in at least one drug smuggling case.

 A web of square or circular holes of different sizes in the walls connects each house, allowing smugglers to flee during police raids. The smugglers move from one house to another before landing in the fields. They then make a dash for the river, crossing it before the police can reach them. For a well-built cop, it is difficult to follow them through the holes. Another series of small holes in the walls are used to quickly dispose of drugs in case of a raid. Contraband, including heroin, smack and opium, packed in small pouches is moved from one house to another till the police call off search. 

The Jagraon police have plugged these holes in the past, but new ones reappear soon after the raids. In a rare access to these houses, The Tribune found small gates in the boundary walls, big enough for a child to pass through. A few days ago, the police plugged these escape routes with bricks and locked the small iron gates. “It is literally a cat and mouse game,” says Jagraon Senior Superintendent of Police Surjeet Singh, who ordered the plugging of holes soon after taking charge last month. “But it is a painstaking task as the smugglers try to be one step ahead of the police. It is not easy for an officer to ensure the holes are plugged at all times.” 

Assistant Sub-Inspector Balour Singh, who oversaw the plugging operation recently, says he knows the “horoscope” of each family and pays them regular visits to ensure the escape routes remain shut. “Your life is always on the line when to visit the village. Women embrace you, pleading for mercy or grapple as the situation warrants. Children clutch on to your legs, restricting your movement. A number of policemen have been injured in the process,” he says.

 The house of alleged high-profile smuggler Paramjit Singh, alias Pamma, is located right at the entry to the village. Its high walls and air-conditioners inside point to the lifestyle he enjoys. “Most of villagers, including Pamma, are farm labourers. Some drive tractor-trailers for sand miners. It is hard to acquire air-conditioners or cars from daily wages,” says the ASI. Four other notorious smugglers belonging to the village have been on the run ever since the new Congress government turned the heat on drug smugglers. A resident, who claims to have given up smuggling a long time ago, says most of the village houses were “kutcha” in the beginning. “Villagers have graduated from smuggling illicit liquor in pouches or bottles to poppy husk in gunny bags and then opium in polythene bags. They have now switched to the easier and more lucrative “chitta” (heroin), which can be easily concealed in small pouches.” As “chitta” business flourished, almost all houses were rebuilt, says the ASI.

‘Cat and mouse game’
"It is literally a cat and mouse game... It is a painstaking task as the smugglers try to be one step ahead of the police. It is not easy for an officer to ensure the holes in the walls are plugged at all times." Surjeet Singh, Jagraon SSP
Safety exit in 35 houses
  • A web of square/circular holes in the walls connects each of 35 houses, allowing drug smugglers to flee during police raids
  • The smugglers use the route to escape into the fields and subsequently cross the Sutlej. It’s hard for well-built cops to follow them through the holes
  • Another series of small holes in the walls are used to quickly dispose of drugs in case of a raid

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