Punjab CM Amarinder Singh had promised to wipe out the drug menace within four weeks before coming to power. However, looking at the present position of the state, the promise of a drug-free Punjab seems like a far cry.
Two recent cases, in particular, bring to light the grim reality of drug abuse in the state of Punjab.
One of the cases came up last month from Amritsar’s Ranjit Avenue, where a mother chained her 24-year-old daughter addicted to drugs. This exposed the government’s claims of a crackdown on the drugs issue in Punjab.
What it also exposed was the casual attitude of the health department towards this serious menace.
The woman alleged that she had taken her daughter to government-run de-addiction centres three times. Every time, the doctors discharged her summarily in a few days. Imagine, such a serious patient being treated with such a casual attitude.
The normal duration for treatment of addiction-related cases takes a time of six months to five years as per a study commissioned by the Indian Council of Social Science and Research. This shows the extent of deficiency in health services afforded in the present case.
The issue of deficiency with de-addiction centres has also come under judicial scrutiny with the Punjab and Haryana High Court recently directing the Punjab government to frame rules and bring all the de-addiction centres operational in the state within the ambit of the Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Act, 2010, and the Mental Healthcare Act, 2017 within a period of three months.
Earlier this year, Dr Neha Shoree, an official of the State Government of Punjab’s Food and Drug Administration wing, was shot dead in broad daylight by a pharmacist-owner and alleged drug peddler, whose license had been cancelled by Dr Shoree over illicit practices and non-conformity with requisite standards.
Later, the murderer shot himself in the chest and died before reaching the hospital. This incident was widely reported and had shaken the conscience of the entire nation.
A recent Tribune report captures the grim reality of drug addiction in Punjab. According to the report, the anti-drug campaign has largely targeted the little fish, while the big ones continue to evade the law. In such a scenario, the report claims, an addiction-free Punjab remains a distant dream.
The report cites the seizure of lakhs of habit-forming tablets and injections from chemist shops and godowns from two premier cities of Punjab- Ludhiana and Faridkot.
This exposes the claim of a forceful crackdown on the drug trade in the state and how easily drugs are still available in Punjab imperilling the health of the youngsters of the state, a sizeable proportion of whom is battling drug addiction.
What is important to mention here is that the ‘Faridkot shop owner’ continued selling contraband despite registration of four cases under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act against him in the last eight years. This shows that drug peddlers thriving in the state don’t fear the law.
According to the Tribune, the shopowner’s purported links with law enforcement agencies emboldened him in continuing with illegal drug trade despite registration of four cases against him under the NDPS Act.
Drug addiction continues to result in a high number of fatalities. The government has already accepted 21 deaths due to drug overuse this year, as per a report dated August 10.
95 such deaths have taken place in the state ever since the Amarinder Singh government came to power. 70 such deaths had taken place in 2018. As compared to this, 4 deaths took place in 2017 due to drug overuse, when Congress had come to power in the state. This shows that worryingly the situation has only worsened since 2017 instead of improving.
Even the face of a continuously intensifying drugs issue in the state, Punjab CM Amarinder Singh continues to argue that the present government has taken steps to combat drug addiction. In an interview by The Tribune, he replied to a question about how he had promised to wipe out the drug menace in four weeks after coming to power but the state was still battling with this problem.
To this, he replied, “I had said I will break the backbone of the drug business within a few weeks and I have done that. This is evident from the data available in public domain. Our special investigation team (SIT) has filed 31,081 cases against drug suppliers and 38,117 persons have been arrested so far. Over 12,000 have been put behind bars and our teams have secured at least 3,600 convictions. Efforts are on to root out the problem completely.”
However, as we have already seen registration of cases has not essentially translated into deterrence against drug peddlers.
Take the case of the Faridkot shop owner, for example, who continued selling contraband despite registration of four cases against him. This narrates how growth in registration of cases, as emphasised upon by Amarinder Singh has not helped substantially. It is clear that registration of cases has not ended the drug menace in Punjab.
Another issue with law enforcement has been the high number of bails in drug cases across the state. As per an Indian Express report, over three accused in drug cases walk out on bail every day. This acts as a hindrance in creating s deterrent.
How can arrests be expected to instil a sense of fear in the minds of those accused of drug peddling, with such a high number of accused being set at large on bail on an everyday basis? It is now for the state government and the prosecution government to find a solution to this serious issue.
Recently, Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal hit out at the Amarinder Singh led government in the state of Punjab. She stated that the two years of Congress government in Punjab saw the “highest drug related-deaths”
The Congress had promised to wipe out the drug problem in the state within four years of coming to power. Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had assumed office on March 16, 2017, and he is halfway through his tenure, however, the drug issue in Punjab is far from over.
Lack of vigorous law enforcement and deficiency in de-addiction centres are the chief culprits which have acted as a hindrance in battling the drug issue. Now, it is for the Amarinder Singh government to bring about substantial changes in the policy of tackling drug menace.