Covid-19, turmeric, drugs and border-control


Turmeric smuggling is a highly profitable operation. Fishermen from Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka handle the transaction out at sea. Tamil Nadu is a Covid-19 disaster. And the Peliyagoda Fish Market is marked in the current infection spike. Connect the dots.

The Navy apprehended three suspects with over 1,700 kg of smuggled turmeric and three others with 344kg in operations conducted in Punapitiya, Udappuwa and Sinnapadu, it is reported.

A recent New Indian Express news feature titled ‘Turmeric: the illegal spice route,’ shed some light on the matter. It spoke of smuggling. Here are the numbers which have added an extra spice to smuggling: the price of a kilogramme of turmeric before the import ban [by Sri Lanka] was LKR 325 with an import tax of LKR 102. The price has [since] risen to LKR 4,000 to LKR 5,000. An official in Ramanathapuram said with the help of local fishermen in coastal districts, the spice is being smuggled from the State [of Tamil Nadu] and is bartered for Sri Lankan gold.

The modus operandi is as follows, as explained by an Indian official to the NIE.

‘The fishermen from the two countries meet at the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) and exchange hundreds of kilograms of turmeric packed in gunny bags for gold.’

There’s a story on this side of the Palk Straits too. It was recently reported that 16 suspects had been arrested with 4150kg of smuggled dried turmeric during special operations conducted in Puttalam. In another operation in the Periyapadu Beach area, the Navy had recovered another stock of smuggled dried turmeric brought to the shore by two dinghies. Further investigation into the incident led to the recovery of three more dried turmeric sacks hidden by racketeers in a house nearby. Overall 1600kg of dried turmeric stuffed in 45 sacks, two dinghies, a cab and apprehension of 8 suspects had been seized.

It’s fishermen on both sides who engage in these operations. Of course there could be bosses who collect, but they don’t do the down and dirty. That’s for the minions. Always.

Add the name ‘Peliyagoda’ or rather ‘Peliyagoda Fish Market’ and it’s easy to connect what could very well be the dots that give the picture of the recent surge in Covid-19 infections. Add the ganja and other drugs dots and it would be more complete

The war on terrorism was not fought just in the North and East. It was fought all over the island because anyone and any place could be (and was) a terrorist target. It was fought in the seas too. The LTTE smuggled drugs and people. The LTTE transported arms and cadres, wounded and armed. The Navy played a key role in defeating the LTTE. The Navy has the know-how to protect the borders.

Borders matter and these are border matters. Maritime borders. A job for the Navy, then.

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