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Why can't phensydyl smuggling be stopped
Subir Bhaumik
Why can't phensydyl smuggling be stopped
PHOTO : BSF and Customs officials seized Rs 1 crore worth of phensedyl shipments for Bangaldesh at Agartala. TIWN / BDnews24 Pic

We all know Nicholas Piramal produces the cough syrup Phensydyl. It contains a high degree of Codeine phosphate. which is a narcotic drug and causes addiction when used in large quantities over a period of time. Over the last thirty years, since General H M Ershad enforced prohibition in Bangladesh, drug users there have turned to Phenysdyl in place of liquor. Tripura and other parts of Northeast India have become the gateway for smuggling phensydyl to Bangladesh.

 Now phensydyl use in Tripura is also going up. The usual risk of a gateway becoming a big time user point. Many local producers have put up illicit pharmaceutical units to produce various  cough preparations so that they can be sold in the market as liquor substitutes both for Bangladesh as well as the local market.
One such cough syrup contains chlorphenirmine maleate, an anti-histaminic, in addition to codeine phosphate, which causes sedation. Empty bottles of codeine phosphate cough syrups of different brands are often found in public and tourist places. These are systematically recovered and refilled. A top former minister of a Northeastern state is said to be running such units . These cough syrups are grossly misused in northeastern states like Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland where prohibition has been imposed either by the Church or by local rebel groups..In Tripura, though, it is not prohibition but because they are cheaper than liquor that these cough syrups are used. 

 The problem is serious, because pharmaceuticals are more affordable and easily available at retail outlets. They are often used as substitutes by drug users. The problem gets magnified when drug users begin to take them over a long period of time. Distributors, wholesalers or retailers do not bring cough syrups legally into Tripura but smuggle them in trucks into the State under a fictitious name. While large quantities go undetected, only a fraction is caught either by the police or by the Customs Department. Initially, the drug used to be procured by authorized stockists, but later the licenses of all the stockists in Tripura were cancelled due to non-maintenance of proper sales record as per the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules of 1945. In spite of this, the drug still continues to enter the State through illegal channels and is mostly smuggled to Bangladesh. T here are no legal or illegal manufacturers of the product within the State. The illegal import of the drug has created a law-and-order as well as a socio-economic problem.

  Phensedyl and other cough syrups are illegally brought into the State with forged documents and at times are hidden under other commodities like in trucks and buses. Once inside, they find their way to Bangladesh, with which Tripura shares two thirds of its border. The drug is generally sent in its original packaging. Since liquor is banned in Bangladesh, the drug became a popular alternative for alcohol. 

 In every meeting between BSF and Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) , the Bangladeshis have raised serious objections to the rampant smuggling of phensydyl from India . Dhaka is justified in feeling that this is a threat for their youth. One of my good friend and junion colleague. Anirban Roy once exposed the phensydyl racket in the Northeast when he was a Special Correspondent for Hindustan Times. His Delhi bosses first praised him to the sky for wonderful investigative journalism but a week later admonished him . Roy was puzzled at this sudden change of attitude. Later he found that the owners of Nicholas Piramal are personal friends of the owners of Hindustan Times who had pulled up the editors for running Roy's story in serialised form for a few days. Roy is now a senior regional advisor for Northeast with the British high commission, gainfully employed but no longer in media, where he had created much impact.

It is not difficult to see how such high connections can muzzle reporting on serious non-traditional threats to human security. We have seen in neighbouring Myanmar how insurgents and the army both get into peddling drugs . In Tripura, there is a huge business lobby (better call them smugglers lobby) that has grown up around phensydyl smuggling. They have political patrons of all hues backing them. The state government has failed to bring these criminals to justice and impose a firm Drug Control policy. So has the Centre . The BSF and Customs has often seized huge consignments of phensydyl but the feeling is the seizures are just the tip of the iceberg. Both the Centre and the state government have to go after the producers in a big way to stop trafficking of this deadly syrup.

(Mr. Subir Bhaumik is a veteran journalist, former BBC correspondant and author of  two well acclaimed books ‘Insurgent Crossfire’ and ‘Troubled Periphery’ ) send your appreciation and comments pl. send email to or  or post online below
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