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‘People Don’t Even Buy Cigarettes Anymore’: Maharashtra Village on Edge After GOA Police Links It to Drug Trafficking

“Jabse drugs ki khabar aayi hai, logon ne gaon mein cigarette peena bhi band kar diya hai (Ever since the village was linked to drug trafficking in the news, people here have stopped smoking even cigarettes),” said a tea seller at Sasoli village in Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district.

Sasoli, which lies on the Maharashtra-Goa border and is in close proximity to Manohar International Airport at Mopa, was flagged by Goa Police last month as the village being used by drug traffickers for inter-state drugs trade. Since then, it has come under increased scrutiny by police, who have intensified their patrolling in the area, leaving many residents with a sense of foreboding.

When crossing over from Goa’s Hanakhane, Sasoli is the first Maharashtra village, with just a tiny bridge over a canal and a dilapidated gate separating the two states.

Pointing to a desolate spot on the one-km-long dirt road built along the canal that connects Goa and Maharashtra, the tea seller said, “Usually, the youth from the village gather here for an occasional smoke or a drink…But no one is around now due to police patrolling. People are not even coming out to play carrom, which was a village ritual in the evening.”

The Goa Police on August 28 gave a presentation at an online police coordination meeting of senior officers from Goa, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Daman and Diu, during which it mentioned Sasoli in connection with drug trafficking.

In the presentation titled, ‘Cross border smuggling of drugs and use of Dark Web to aid these networks’, Goa Police said multiple dirt roads had come up between Maharashtra’s Sindhudurg district and Goa, and that due to the comparatively low patrolling on these roads, traffickers were increasingly using them to smuggle narcotics. “As per local intelligence, Sasoli village in Sindhudurg district is being used by drug traffickers based in Goa to receive consignments,” the presentation said.

Last week, amid intensified patrolling following the police officers’ meeting, two men were arrested from the village for alleged possession of cannabis.

“Last week, we were informed that smugglers are increasingly using this route from Sasoli into Goa. We have arrested two people for alleged consumption of ganja from the village. We have increased patrolling along these suspected routes. Currently, the investigation does not suggest a link to an organised smuggling racket. We are coordinating with Goa police,” an officer with the Maharashtra Police said.

Local police have also held a meeting with community elders in the village to discuss the issue of drugs.

Anirudhha Phatak, deputy sarpanch of Sasoli village, said that while some isolated cases of people consuming cannabis were often reported in the village, he denied allegations of large consignments being trafficked from there to Goa.

“I am a former sarpanch. I am not aware of drugs being trafficked from here or about locals being involved in peddling drugs. There have been no major seizures of narcotics nor arrests from the village by the police. People here mostly cultivate cashew and coconuts. Many from the village are employed in hotels and industries in Goa, and often use the dirt road to get to Goa more quickly,” Phatak said.

“Some youth do use ganja, but that is mostly for their own consumption,” he said.

There is a fear among many in the village that allegations regarding its links to drug smuggling could have an effect on their chances of getting jobs in Goa.

“If drugs were being routed through non-motorable roads from the village and police were aware of this, why was the border not manned by police officers?” asked a local resident, who spoke to The Indian Express on the condition of anonymity.

“If the village gains an infamous reputation for drug smuggling, the youth here will find it difficult to find jobs, especially in the tourism industry in Goa,” he said.

Yashwant, who runs an eatery in the village, said “outsiders” may be using the many routes through the village into Goa for smuggling drugs.

“Police presence here was relatively low. The nearest police station, in Dodamarg, is about 7 km away. So, it is possible that this route is being used,” he said, adding, “Since the matter was reported in the media last week, police patrolling, especially on the dirt road along the canal, has intensified. A meeting was also held by village residents, and the youth were sensitised about the ill effects of the consumption of narcotics.”

An officer with the Anti-Narcotics Cell of Goa Police said, “As per intelligence inputs, several dirt roads, earlier used by cattle grazers along the canal, in Sasoli are now being used for smuggling narcotics into Goa. We have shared inputs with local police and intensified patrolling on the Goa side of the border.”