North Delhi’s popular Azadpur Sabzi Mandi has long been the country’s largest wholesale market for fruits and vegetables but the 39-year-old market, spread across a staggering 76 acres of land, is a hub, not only for drug addicts, but also for those looking out to procure an array of ghastly and fatal drugs in large quantities.

This gruesome reality of the area is first exposed beyond the boundaries of the mandi, under flyovers, near bus depots, taxi stands and mechanic shops, where people using intravenous drugs can be spotted through the day. The widespread drug abuse in the area is facilitated by easy availability of drugs, in small and large quantities. Under one such flyover near Mahendra Park, three men in their late 40’s arrive at their favourite "shoot-up" spot. They inject vials of Avil (pheniramine maleate) into each other’s blacked out veins, corroded by years of drug abuse.

"Yes it is a little difficult to obtain pharmaceutical drugs in chemist shops these days," one of them admits. "But we are their regular customers. We just have to stand aside and we can get a vial of Avil for Rs 50. The entire kit comes for around Rs 150, excluding the cost of syringes."

Far removed from the flyovers is the local truck depot at Azadpur Sabzi Mandi. Like most other parts of the Capital, small packets of marijuana are easily available here, costing Rs 100-120. But is the nexus between inter-state truck drivers and taxi drivers frequenting the mandi, being used in the influx of fatal drugs into Delhi?

Truckers, many of whom are usually addicted to opium, admitted to the widespread drug use in the area. "We usually have to put in several hours of work and we have to drive several hundred kilometres in a day. This is not possible without drugs," said Manoj, a seasoned truck driver. "We usually get our stock of opium from line hotels (dhabas). We buy it from there and get it to Delhi. There have been instances of truck drivers themselves transporting opium and other drugs. What else will he do with a salary of a few thousand rupees," Manoj said. Many taxi drivers are seen frequenting local mechanic shops opposite the truck stand and they threw more light on how people working in the transport business in the mandi area act as drug mules.

"There have been people who take us to Azadpur Sabzi Mandi and ask us to purchase several hundred kgs of Marijuana from their local source. Of course, I have only transported a few kilograms as the smell is unbearable and it alerts the authorities," said Vikash, a taxi driver.

The local set-up in Azadpur Mandi and adjoining areas is conducive for drug trafficking and is exploiting the transport facilities available in the mandi to spread drugs, coming from West Bengal and Odisha, to other parts of the Capital. "There are several ‘strongmen’ in the area, they have set up a drug business and many cops are also on the take. The drug dealers in Azadpur hide in plain sight as they are your local chemists. There is a lot of demand in the area and truckers and taxi drivers fulfil that thirst," said Vikash. "Most taxi drivers, who act as drug mules, are paid at least Rs 40,000 for one shipment," he said, indicating that they are not only involved in transporting Marijuana but other fatal drugs too as the margin in Marijuana trafficking will not pay Rs 40,000 to taxi drivers alone. "If you are caught, your drug boss will bail you out but you will be stuck for ever. Only people with no families are generally involved in it," he added.

A Marijuana and smack peddler from Noida, known only as Kalu, said he gets his stock from Azadpur. "I know some drivers in Azadpur, coming up from Odisha to the mandi. My brother runs a dhaba on the highway and he loads one sack of Marijuana (about 40 kg) and I collect it from there (mandi), along with four-five other similar sacks of onions or potatoes."

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