Drug smuggler with Hizbul links arrested in Punjab

Chandigarh: In a major catch, Punjab Director General of Police Dinkar Gupta on Saturday said Ranjeet Rana ‘Cheeta’, who was wanted in a 532-kg heroin haul from the Indo-Pakistan border in June last year, has been arrested from Haryana’s Sirsa town.

He is one of the biggest drug smugglers of India and was linked to Hizbul Mujahideen commander Riyaz Naikoo who was killed by security forces in Kashmir two days ago.

“Following up further on arrests of Hizbul operatives in J&K and Punjab, Punjab Police juggernaut moved further to nab Ranjeet of Amritsar, one of the biggest drug smugglers of India from Sirsa today,” Gupta informed in a tweet.

“Cheeta was wanted in 532 kg heroin haul from Attari in June 2019.”

The DGP said Ranjeet Rana and his brother Gagandeep were arrested from Begu village in Sirsa.

Ranjeet is suspected to have smuggled heroin and other drugs from Pakistan, camouflaged in six rock salt consignments through the Integrated Check Post (ICP) at the Attari border, some 30 km from Amritsar, he said.

In the biggest seizure of narcotics coming from Pakistan in recent years, the Customs Department on June 30, 2019, seized 532 kg heroin valued at nearly Rs 2,600 crore from the Attari border.

The heroin was concealed in gunny bags of a rock salt consignment that was coming from Pakistan.

DGP Gupta said he spoke to his Haryana counterpart Manoj Yadav on Friday and thereafter coordination was established.

With more than 10 criminal cases against him, Ranjeet was one of the key links in the network engaged in the smuggling of large number of composite consignments of drugs and illegal weapons through the Indo-Pak border.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh lauded the police for their aggressive operations against terrorists and drug smugglers despite their pre-occupation with the enforcement of curfew and other measures to contain the spread of Covid.

He also congratulated the police force for the arrest of Hilal Ahmed Wagay, an overground worker of the banned Hizbul Mujahideen.

It is notable that the inputs shared by Punjab Police are learnt to have played a significant role in the operations by the Jammu and Kashmir Police against Naikoo.

Two more Hizbul operatives were arrested later by Punjab Police from Amritsar on May 5.

Following Hilal’s arrest, the Chief Minister said that Punjab Police had shared Hilal’s disclosures with the Central government and its agencies.

During the course of investigations, CCTV footage of a large number of CCTV camera points on the possible route was gathered and examined followed by technical analysis, which led to the apprehension of Bikram Singh and his brother Maninder Singh with one kg heroin and Rs 32.25 lakh currency on May 5.

Their interrogation revealed that both Bikram and Maninder, along with their cousins Ranjeet were active.

Further analysis of data along with NIA led to the identification of Ranjeet’s location in Sirsa, and subsequently, in coordination with Haryana Police the hideout was busted and he was caught with his brother, said the Chief Minister.

Ranjeet was one of the most active nodes of the network of drug smugglers and couriers set up by the ISI to push in composite consignments of drugs and weapons from Pakistan into Punjab through various means, including drones.

He was convicted in 2008, 2009 and 2011 for heroin smuggling. He was awarded 12 years of rigorous imprisonment for smuggling of 5 kg heroin, but was acquitted by the Supreme Court in March 2018 due to benefit of doubt.

With the arrest of Ranjeet, the police has been able to unravel international drug networks on such a massive scale to expose a major racket of narco-proceeds being routed to terrorist outfits operating in Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and other parts of the country, said the Chief Minister.

Year 2019 had witnessed record heroin seizures of about 464 kg, which was largest ever for any single year.

There had been a steady increase in heroin seizures since his government took, said the Chief Minister, adding heroin seizures jumped five times between 2016 (91 kg) and 2019 (464 kg).

Smuggling of drugs along Punjab’s 553-km long border with Pakistan is common.