On Sunday, Bharath, a Class 9 student, popped a candy his friend gave him into his mouth. The small candy, which resembled a lozenge, was bought from a petty shop near his school in Tondiarpet.
Neither Bharath nor his friend had any idea of what was to follow. The two were soon rushed to a government hospital with severe abdomen pain and nausea. One of the two children, who has a history of epilepsy, developed complications. He is currently stable, but being monitored.
Many people in the area said that they regularly saw children throng the shop for pieces of the candy, but dismissed it as a general enthusiasm for sweets. The childrenâ€™s parents were completely in the dark about the candy, which it has now emerged was reportedly laced with narcotics.
Police, according to a Times of India report, arrested Suresh Mahola, a Tondiarpet shopkeeper who sold the sweets. Suresh Mahola has been charged under relevant sections of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 for allegedly preserving and selling a narcotic substance at his shop at Durga Devi Nagar, Tondiarpet. Six packs of chocolates were seized.
Mahola, a native from Bihar, reportedly said on initial enquiry that he bought the chocolates from a dealer in Kolkata. Currently in jail, he revealed that the chocolate contained bhang, popularly consumed in North India in the form of a drink. Mahola would also hand out the chocolates to 'select' customers.
But the drug laced candy problem was not restricted to Chennai alone.
Food safety officers seized huge sacks of ganja-laced candy from a godown in Villupuram and another batch from Kovilpatti in Thoothukudi district.
The National Human Rights Commission has sent a notice to the Tamil Nadu police, based on media reports, demanding a report within four weeks of the incident.
The investigation will also focus on whether there is a larger racket at play or whether these are singular incidents.
Though all the different raids were not connected, the seizure of toffees and candies laced with drugs has set the alarm bells ringing.
"We have sent the substance for testing. As of now, we are planning to crack down on petty shops near schools and colleges across districts. What we know of the substance is that it is called Taaran, a semi-solid drug that is labeled â€˜ayurvedicâ€™ at the back. It normally causes hallucinations, disorientation and is highly addictive," said B. Vasakumar, Director and Additional Commissioner of Food Safety.
However, Sunil Kumar, ADGP (Crime) said that the toffees and candies could have been laced with ganja extracts too. "We have started studying this and it will take some time. I suspect ganja leaves extract were laced in it which has mild intoxication. These main issue is we have to ensure a healthy campus and surroundings are important. Role of local bodies , education Dept and school management is very important," he said.