A month-long investigation and a discreet search operation in Khammam, Telangana, have led to the Kerala police successfully nabbing a five-member gang of quacks who posed as healers and sold counterfeit drugs to several patients in Kollam. In January 2020, five people from Eroor, who bought and ate these counterfeit drugs were hospitalised, with three of them, including a 4-year-old boy turning critical.
A month later, the Eroor police under the supervision of Kollam Rural Superintendent have nabbed all members involved in the counterfeit drug racket. The gang comprising of three adults and two juveniles had arrived in Kollam in December from Khammam in Telangana and were caught when they attempted to flee.
“We have booked and arrested three adults of this group who are the main accused. Two others are juveniles who accompanied them and sold the drugs in various parts of Kollam. Altogether, the group comprised of eight people, including the wives of the three adult quacks,” Circle Inspector of the Eroor police station told TNM.
The three accused men have been identified as 27-year-old Nidiyala Raju, 32-year-old Chenuri Prasad and his brother, 27-year old Chenuri Lalladri. All of them belong to a village named Garla, near Khammam city.
In December 2019, the gang had arrived in Kollam and reportedly sold counterfeit drugs in parts of Eroor, Anchal and Punalur in Kollam, according to the police. The quacks operated by claiming that their medicines could cure psoriasis, eczema, fever, arthritis, digestive ailments and other diseases. However, scores of people developed symptoms such as itchiness, high fever and body swelling days after consuming the medicines. Preliminary tests on the drugs have also confirmed that they contained above permissible levels of mercury.
Cops arrest quacks
“Earlier in February, we managed to arrest Nidiyala Raju from Kottayam railway station as he was about to board a train to escape to Telangana,” explained the Eroor Circle Inspector. A week later, a 4-member team from the Eroor police station was despatched to Garla to collect information on the other two accused.
“We went there and with the help of Khammam police, got the details of Chenuri Prasad and Chenuri Lalladri. We realised that the modus operandi of the gang was never to stay in one state for more than a few months. They stayed in Kollam and sold drugs for two-and-a-half months (since December) and then were planning to shift to another state soon,” the CI added.
From the investigations in Garla, the officers received intelligence that the accused brothers were traveling to Punalur again to sell drugs.
On February 12, both the brothers were arrested by the police from Punalur station limits. A case has been registered in Eroor station against the accused men under sections 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property), 274 (adulteration of drugs), 275 (sale of adulterated drugs) and 338 (causing grievous hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others).
Earlier, when an FIR was first lodged in January in the mercury poisoning cases in Eloor, the police had booked a man named Laxman Raj for the offence. However, investigations have now revealed that Laxman was a fake identity used by Chenuri Prasad and Lalladri to sell the drugs. The duo charged anywhere between Rs 5000- Rs 20,000 for the drugs they sold.
Due to the high mercury content, several patients who had the drugs developed symptoms of mercury poisoning across Kollam. Five patients were even hospitalised after taking the counterfeit medicines.
Four-year-old Mohammad Ali from Anchal, was rushed to a Thiruvananthapuram hospital with extreme symptoms, after taking the counterfeit pills for 10 days to cure his eczema. The child who had 73% more mercury in his body after taking the drugs was even put on ventilator support for a day to recover from the effects of the adulterated medicines.
Another elderly woman from Anchal added that she developed extreme uneasiness in her stomach when she took the pills. Later, she could not move her legs as they turned very heavy.
All three of the accused have now been arrested and remanded to the Kottarakara sub-jail after being produced before the Punalur Judicial First Class magistrate.
Meanwhile, the police are waiting for reports from the food safety labs and the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation on the adulteration present in the medicines sold by the group.