Compared to other well-known drugs such as cannabis and cocaine, the stimulant yaba has more rapidly gained popularity among the country’s youth.
By the time a yaba pill reaches the hands of an addict in Dhaka from the factories in Myanmar – the biggest producer of the methamphetamine tablets in the world – it has passed through at least eight to 10 people.
This means that the trade of the contraband drug has been the source of income for a lot more people than the trades of cannabis, cocaine and phensidyl have ever been.
According to unofficial counts, there are around half a million yaba consumers in the Dhaka city.
Users as sellers
Interestingly, many of these end users are also involved with the trade. For example, retail sellers give them small consignments of, let us say, 10 pills. The deal is that they get to consume two pills for free if they can sell the remaining eight.
Once the consumer-cum-seller builds a circle of yaba customers, the retailers start giving them bigger consignments and he starts earning monetary commissions. Over a period, more end users become small retailers and this continues.
Many of these end users-cum-small retail sellers are college and university students, especially those living in the residential dormitories. According to police, there are several hundred thousands of them including the students.
Information availed by the Dhaka Tribune suggests that there are at least 27,000 of them in only the Aminbazar area of Savar near Dhaka.
There are about 2,500 retail sellers in Dhaka city who operate mainly from the various slums, police sources said. They keep small stocks of the contraband pills and earn from commission.
The main supply of the pills to the capital city comes from a racket of about 700 middlemen who have divided the city into eight zones. They usually do not sell the drug outside their own areas.
This Dhaka Tribune reporter recently spent a couple of days with one of these middlemen who operates from a slum in the capital’s Uttara area.
“We mainly target those addicts who do not have the money to buy all the pills they need. At first we give them on credit. After a while, especially when they fail to pay, we give them an offer: ‘Why don’t you sell these 10 pills and you will not need to pay’,” explained the middleman, seeking anonymity.
“There are three types of pills: Champa, R7 and Controller. Pink Champa pills are the cheapest and the most available ones. In Dhaka, one such pill can be availed for Tk220-330.”
“The quality of R7 is a bit better and so a little less available. It is green in colour. The price of each R7 pill in Dhaka is from Tk700 to Tk900.”
“Controller pills, white in colour, are the rarest and the most in demand. But an end user will never get a controller. One will have to buy at least 1,000 pills at a time to get one Controller. The middlemen usually consume these themselves. Still, if someone wishes to buy one of these, they will have to spend Tk1,500-Tk2,000 for one Controller pill,” the middleman said.
According to a Dhaka Tribune investigation conducted last year, the factory rate of a Champa pill is Tk54 and an R7 pill may cost of up to Tk300-350.
The yaba lords
The middleman also gave a description of how the entire chain of the yaba trade works.
A strong syndicate controls the entire yaba trade in the capital city. Some sources said it is a 33-member syndicate while other sources put the number at 50. The middlemen report to these “yaba lords.”
Members include people from virtually all professions – policemen, lawyers, government employees, and so on. One of them was a police sub-inspector named Mahfuzur Rahman from the force’s Special Branch (SB).
He was arrested in June last year along with 680,000 yaba pills in Feni district. It was said at that time that he was on his way back from Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar – the hotbed of yaba trade in the country.
It is not that all yaba lords like the sub-inspector go physically to collect the consignment. All of them have their own carriers – around 1,000 in number – who usually bring in the consignments from Teknaf.
Interestingly, a majority of these carriers are female students who study in the colleges and universities in Dhaka and are originally from the areas adjacent to the smuggling prone borders. Human rights activists with dubious credentials and journalists from less known media houses are also known to have worked as carriers.
These carriers collect the yaba consignments from some big wholesalers based mainly in the greater Chittagong area. According to police sources, there are around 300-400 of them in the Chittagong area alone.
The big fish
On January 18 this year, in one of the biggest yaba hauls in history, RAB seized as many as 2.8 million pills during separate drives in Dhaka and Chittagong. A man named Abdul Hai was arrested in Chittagong during the drives. It is believed that he is one of these big wholesalers.
Sources from inside the countrywide yaba racket also said that some of these wholesalers are so big that they can store up to 10 million pills at a time.
Some of the biggest wholesalers are so powerful that they have managed to remain out of the law’s reach for many years. One source of power is the backing that they get from a section of powerful politicians.
Abdur Rahman Bodi, a lawmaker of the ruling Awami League based in Teknaf of Cox’s Bazar, is a powerful politician who shelters yaba traders.
In 2014, the Department of Narcotics Control (DNC) published a report containing the names of a staggering 1,200 people, believed to be involved in the illegal trade, including Bodi. The list also includes the names of many of Bodi’s family members and relatives, some of whom are believed to be big wholesalers.
Last year, Bodi and 15 of his close relatives’ names appeared in a short list made by a law enforcement agency.
At that time, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal said no actions could be taken against the ruling party MP because no evidence of his involvement in yaba trade has been found.
Khandakar Rakibur Rahman, director general of the DNC, said: “We have already collected information on the yaba chain. Our officials have already planned an operation, which will hopefully be executed in February.”
Another set of carriers – mainly fishermen from both Bangladesh and Myanmar who operate in the bordering Naf River – bring the big consignments from the factories in the neighbouring country.
In the dark of the night, Bangladeshi fishermen leave their fishing nets on the river, which virtually serves as the fence on the border where neither of the countries’ law enforcement agencies have any jurisdiction.
Fishermen from Myanmar attach sacks filled with yaba pills with the nets. The Bangladeshi fishermen collect fish from the nets along with the sacks, said a RAB press statement released last year.
In recent times, after the crackdown on human smuggling rackets, some human traffickers have started using their boats to carry yaba consignments on the Naf River, its estuary and the Bay of Bengal.
According to a Bangladeshi intelligence agency, at least 37 yaba factories have been set up along the border in Myanmar, opposite to Teknaf upazila in Cox’s Bazar.
3 million pills a day
Sources said that every day, massive yaba consignments – around three million pills – enter Bangladesh through at least 33 points on the border from Myanmar.
The Dhaka Tribune also contacted the inspector general of police (IGP) in this regard.
IGP AKM Shahidul Hoque told the Dhaka Tribune: “Combating drug abuse and related crime is not one of the main tasks of police.
“Still, we are giving maximum priority to this issue. Police, along with DNC and BGB, have so far filed nearly 50,000 cases in 2015 and arrested nearly 110,000 people in the last two years,” the IGP said.