New Delhi, Dec 30 (PTI) The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) may be "criticised" for apprehending people possessing small amount of cannabis but it cannot allow free run to drug lords and peddlers in selling narcotics and ruining lives, the agency's chief Rakesh Asthana has said.

The drugs abuse scenario in the country was "quite grim", he said on Tuesday at an online conference on anti-money laundering and combating financing of terrorism that was organised by the Global Counter Terrorism Council.

"In the context of drug trafficking, India is located between the 'golden crescent', Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, and the 'golden triangle', Myanmar, Laos and Thailand. Infact, it can be called (sandwiched between) death crescent and death triangle." "Ninety-five per cent of the world's heroin is manufactured in these two regions. Heroin is being pushed into the country from the Myanmar and Pakistan-Afghanistan side... the whole of northeast and northwest is badly affected. The amount of money which is generated (by drug trade) is mind boggling," Asthana said on Tuesday.

He said the drugs problem in the country was "huge" and only central agencies cannot handle it unless state agencies join in.

"We are under a lot of criticism as to why we are catching small amount of cannabis from people. The problem is not small or big amount. It is that we are giving the field to these peddlers and drug lords to have an open field to sell their drugs... it is a vague and complicated problem and solution is not very simple." "The only thing is that we should be serious about it. We are trying to make state police agencies aware about the problem and carry out operations to curb the supply side," the NCB chief said.

If acted upon seriously and in a collective and coordinated manner the problem can definitely solved, he stressed.

The NCB has been criticised in the recent past for apprehending people who possessed small amounts of drugs such as marijuana or cannabis, with experts saying the federal anti-narcotics agency should rather focus on large syndicates active in this illegal trade.

Asthana quoted a survey conducted by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in 2018-19 to claim that India was the biggest consumer of opioids, such as opium, heroin and pharmaceutical drugs, in the world.

"India is not not only a transit point, but consumers are growing day by day particularly among the younger generation... the Border Security Force and the NCB are working to curb the supply of drugs in our country but that will not suffice." "Demand side reduction is also essential, awareness is essential, rehabilitation is essential. It has to be a composite approach so far as supply side is concerned," Asthana, who also heads the BSF, said.

The NCB chief said the survey found that about 28 lakh people in the country are "addicted" to heroin and the per day consumption of heroin is about 1 tonne.

"If you calculate the money from a conservative point of view, the total amount generated from heroin is Rs 1,44,000 crore per year and that is heroin only. So you can imagine the amount of money generated," he said.

Asthana said the money generated through illicit drug trade is "huge" and it is not only for taking care of the peddlers but it is "definitely" being used in some other organised crime.

He said drug-related crimes are not related to only one state as the criminals have national and international networks and "unless we coordinate, the menace will not go." The NCB director general, a 1984-batch IPS officer of Gujarat cadre, said drug crimes are unfortunately "not a priority area" for local police and they are sometimes not aware of the socio-economic issues as they are pressed to check and act against other serious crimes in their areas.

"I was also a district SP and police commissioner. But our priority area was maintenance of law and order and investigation of serious crimes. Police force is not not attuned to tackle this problem," Asthana said.

Participating in the conference, National Investigation Agency (NIA) Inspector General Anil Shukla said over the last few years they were finding "a clear pattern" that drug money was being used to "fuel" terrorist activities in the country.

Former ED Director Karnal Singh said narcotics was a social problem when one speaks about the consumer side.  Singh, who headed the special cell of the Delhi Police in the past, stressed that the society should act against the menace of drugs consumption and that there was a need to decriminalise small consumption in the country, which has already been done in a graded manner.