Punjab’s crackdown on drugs was launched barely a week after the ruling combine was left red-faced on May 16, 2014, with the defeat of their high-profile candidate Arun Jaitley, now the Union Finance Minister, from Amritsar in the Lok Sabha elections where the government’s apathy on the drugs menace was a major talking point.
But experts working to rehabilitate drug addicts and families of victims described the crackdown as a “flawed” exercise.
Dr Simmi Waraich, a well-known psychiatrist from Mohali’s Fortis hospital, who has counselled scores of addicts, called the crackdown “lopsided”.
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“The entire focus of the crackdown was lopsided given how the addicts were targeted. Putting addicts behind bars will not serve any purpose. There was a reign of terror during the time and patients used to approach us asking for certificates that they were under treatment for drug addiction because they had been threatened that they would be put behind bars,” said Dr Waraich.
She added that the crackdown has had a “dangerous” fallout. “The sudden crackdown on the supply of opium and poppy husk also pushed many addicts towards more dangerous substances like heroin and synthetic drugs because of non-availability of their daily dose,” said Dr Waraich.
Dr Pramod Kumar, director, Institute of Development and Communication, a Chandigarh-based think tank involved in the study of various governance and social issues, including drug abuse and its impact on youth, said the crackdown was “not a bad move” by the state government but faulted the police for the manner of execution. “For the first time, a strong political will had been shown by the state government to put a stop to the sale of drugs in the state. However, the police did not do it in the way it should have been done. This is why many small-time peddlers and end-users have found themselves behind the bars. The correct way to have gone about it was to first explore ways of prevention and then resort to enforcement. Creating public awareness, taking members of the society along, involving the panchayats, etc., were some of the steps that could have been taken,” said Kumar.
‘Police acted against those who violated law’
However, no one from the SAD-BJP government responded to repeated requests over telephone and email from The Indian Express to comment on the results of this investigation. When asked about the state’s drugs crisis earlier this year, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal suggested that the spotlight was on Punjab because it had taken “tough” action.
“Goa is the easiest place in India to get drugs, but there are hardly any arrests. Punjab is acting tough, but gets branded as the drug capital. We all know that drugs coming from Pakistan and Afghanistan are meant for the rest of the country and enter India through Punjab. Punjab is just a highway for the drug route and not the market,” said Badal.
Punjab’s top police drug czar, meanwhile, declined to respond in detail but insisted that the operation against drugs was a “success”. “As per the NDPS Act, there are two categories of drug traffickers and users, commercial and non-commercial. Police have taken action against all those who have violated the law,” said Ishwar Singh, director, Punjab’s Narcotics Control Bureau.