Let’s start by remembering all the youngsters who lost their lives because the powers that govern the city failed to stop the drug menace. Each one of these deaths listed below happened due to drug overdose in Chandigarh:
Dec 18, 2012: Radhika Vashisht, a native of Ambala, a student of a women’s college in Chandigarh, died of heroin overdose.
Feb 11, 2014: A 26-year-old bouncer and private cricket coach Sahil was found dead due to drug overdose in his rented accommodation in Sector 22.
Oct 19, 2014: Manisha (20) of Sector 22, died of suspected drug overdose.
June 12, 2015: Nazma of Delhi died at a hotel in Burail, Sector 45, due to drug overdose.
Sep 13, 2015: Manoj Bisht of Sector 34 was found dead at a public park after overdosing.
Aug 4, 2016: Sandeep Thakur (24) of Sector 29 found dead due to drug overdose in the local market. Later a salon owner, Phool Bahar aka Jagga was held for giving the drugs that killed him.
Nov 15, 2016: Nikhil Bajaj (22) of Sector 23 was found dead in his Swift car reportedly due to drug overdose.
Aug 12, 2018: Deepinder Malik, 23, of Hisar, died in a private hotel in Naya Gaon. Deepinder had purchased heroin from a city-based peddler, Bala, who was later arrested.
Chitta, ganja, afeem, or any other drug, be it in or outside the group of drugs listed as “opioids” are now easily available in Chandigarh.
The city joints
Ask any friendly college-going student about where to get “maal” or “stuff”, and they’d be able to help you procure the poison of your choice. Surprisingly, they won’t ask you to go to some quiet place outside the city, but to the densely populated areas like the slum and rehabilitation colonies, Sector 38 West, Dadumajra Colony, Manimajra, Bapu Dham, Maloya and even the bustling Sector 22. In most cases, they will even give you the number of the contact who will help you source the “material”.
Cocaine, a high-end drug, carrying a price tag of Rs 12,000 for 1gm is also on the menu, though cops say this drug is used only by the elite so far.
Cocaine’s poorer cousins heroin, opium, charas, hash (ganja) are cheaper, and more popular amongst the masses.
If anyone is looking for the medicinal drugs, like injections of Buprenorphine, Pheniramine Maleate, tablets or capsules, those too are available for an even lower price.
While Delhi is said to be turning into India’s cocaine capital–Rs 180 crore of cocaine was seized from the national capital in December 2018 alone–Chandigarh hasn’t seen any major action or seizures besides the arrest of two peddlers, Suresh Kumar and Amit Kumar of Zirakpur, with 40gm cocaine worth Rs 4.80 lakh. This was after a long gap of four years.
In 2015, a Nigerian national was arrested with 28gm cocaine near ISBT-17. It’s strange, but it’s been very quiet as far as seizures are concerned.
Anti-narcotics agencies like to believe that there isn’t any business for cocaine in the city. Zonal Director, Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Mahinderjit Singh, says, “So far we have not received any specific information about the availability of cocaine in Chandigarh. We usually hear about these things from Chandigarh police. If cocaine is being supplied in Chandigarh, it is a matter of concern. We have specific inputs about the availability of other substances besides cocaine.”
Dial a drug
He agrees that drug addiction is increasing among college students. “Earlier, there were reports of drugs being supplied through bouncers, bar attendants in discos, bars and night clubs but in the recent past the trend has changed. Now both peddlers and consumers use WhatsApp calling, which is encrypted, making it difficult for us to track the calls.”
Crime branch Inspector Amanjot Singh said, “Suresh Kumar and Amit Kumar confessed that there are hardly a dozen customers of cocaine in the tricity, and all of them belong to elite families. Though the two revealed the names of their customers, we have not included them in the purview of the investigation.” He said their customers included students and businessmen..
Singh says their investigations reveal that poppy-husk and hash (ganja) are the cheapest drugs, followed by charas, and then heroin. “It is a myth that opium is consumed only by truck drivers and labourers, people from wealthy families are also addicted to opium.”
High on dope, low on arrests
While the authorities say that drug consumption in increasing in the city, statistics of drug haul tell another story.
As per the data available with local police the seizures and arrest of peddlers, there has been a 30% decline from 2017 in the number of arrests and cases registered for drug peddling in 2018.
Surinder Bagga, an activist working for de-addiction, says, “The reason is simple. In 2017, Punjab and Haryana High Court had taken a note of increasing cases of drug consumption in the region, comprising Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh. After that the UT Police launched a crackdown. The year 2017 saw 244 arrests, 2018 had only 171 arrests. A total of 240 cases were registered in 2017, against 169 cases in 2018.
The few seizures made in 2018 included 17.08 gm cocaine, 3.396 kg charas, 3.149 kg opium, 1.016 kg heroin, 4,035 injections, 10,653 tablets and 960 capsules. Interestingly, nine of those listed as “notorious drug peddlers”, were women.
Most of the seizures were made from the pockets of small-time peddlers in Chandigarh. NCB says they’ve found people carrying drugs in their shoes, modified vehicles and even inside vegetables.
SSP (UT) Nilambari Vijay Jagdale said, “For curbing the drug menace in the city, we are working in two directions. First, we are arresting the peddlers and suppliers. Every month, names of suppliers settled in Delhi, Punjab, UP and Himachal are forwarded to the SSPs of their areas for taking action. We also making efforts to arrest the main suppliers. Secondly, we try to rehabilitate the addicts through various professional courses introduced by the ministry of home affairs (MHA).”
One reason for the low number of arrests could be that increasingly drugs are being seized in non-commercial quantity.
As per police records, about 123 seizures were of smack weighing 83.65 gm,17 of 340 gm heroin, 11 of ganja weighing 10.085 kg,10 of 883 gm charas, 2 seizures of 1.217 kg poppy husk, one seizure of opium weighing 100gm, and 12 seizures of medicinal drugs, including 1,103 prohibited injections and 200 bottles of syrup.
NCB says peddlers from UP, MP and Rajasthan travel to Chandigarh to supply opium and poppy-husks while peddlers from Himachal supply charas, especially Malana cream, and peddlers from Delhi and Punjab supply heroin
Advocate Kailash Chander, Special Public Prosecutor for NCB, said, “The reason for the failure of the local police is lack of coordination among different state police authorities, poor intelligence inputs and ground network.
Sniffer dogs in colleges
Private colleges/institutes have now decided to take things in their own hands. Some of them are hiring trained dogs from Punjab Home Guard Canine Training and Breeding Centre (PHGCTBC) for inspection of hostels.
Simrat Pal Singh, better known as Newton Singh, who manages the centre, says they are taking several steps with the help of colleges. “We have conducted searches at half-a-dozen educational institutes and our dogs discovered injections, syringes, opium, liquor and other substances. For women hostels, we have requested for female handlers.
The students who were found in possession were counseled. We’ve just started this drill for about last six months and so far haven’t found any traces of cocaine or heroin in these hostels.”
What is the solution?
Newsline spoke to a cross-section of people. Here is a gist of their suggestions:
* Make an annual drug test mandatory for cops.
* Conduct regular awareness drives in schools and colleges led by the principal or senior teachers
* Start a drug helpline where people can report peddlers and seek counseling
* Make councillors accountable for wiping out drugs from their areas.
* Police should regularly publicise arrests and seizures besides coming down heavily on any black sheep in the force.
* Drug mafia may seem larger than life but remember it is made up of people. If anyone can fight it, it is the people. At stake is the future of our children.
Parents must keep a close watch on their children
Balbir Singh Makol (79) a transporter and owner of a wheels showroom in Manimajra, has seen drugs ruin well-heeled families in his neighbourhood.
President of National Consumer Awareness Group Society, Chandigarh, he says, “In Manimajra alone, I know around two dozen families who have lost their children to the dark world of drugs. Some of the parents are completed shattered and have lost hope, while others are spending every penny they have to bring their children back from the brink.”
Manimajra is one of the major hubs of drug dealing in the city along with Dadumajra Colony, Maloya, and Bapu Dham in Sector 26. ”I have no fear in saying that the drug trade is happening with the connivance of law enforcement agencies,” rues Makol.
The transporter is particularly bitter about the way drugs have wrecked the family of his close friend. ”He had three sons, one died in an accident and two others fell in bad company and became addicts. He has lost his most of the wealth due to the addiction of his sons and today he is left with just one shop.”
Makol does what he can to help his nighbourhood by taking addicts for rehab. He has got many of them admitted to de-addiction centres at PGIMER and Punjab. But he rues that de-addiction centres have also turned into profit-earning shops.
“Last year, I took five addicts from Manimajra to a Ropar based de-addiction centre at the famous Jand Sahib Gurudwara only to learn that there was no facility and technique for reforming the addicts.
They were using torture methods to wean the addicts away from drugs. All five addicts are now at their houses and four of them are still taking drugs. The centre has been sealed,” he says.
Chandigarh, he says, can be cleansed of drugs, but only with active participation of all sections of society. ”We cannot say that only police can curb drug menace. Parents should also keep tabs on the activities of their wards.”
Be vigilant yet supportive
D r Ajeet Sidana, an associate professor at Department of Psychiatry in Government Medical College and Hospital, Sector 32, says vigilant and understanding parents can play a big role in keeping their wards away from drugs. He said besides parents, teachers also have also a great responsibility to identify the symptoms of addiction among students. ”They should monitor the movements of children. And whenever they any behavioral changes in a student, they should convey it to parents and senior educational officers.”
Dr Sidana, who heads the de-addiction centre at GMCH-32, says the kinds of drugs being taken by people depends a lot on their socioeconomic strata. He said, “Street children often use fluid, anti-cough syrups and cheap medicinal drugs.
Adults from middle class use charas, hash etc while opium is popular among truck drivers, and labourers. Students also take medicinal drugs, including injections.”
While street children are treated at community clinics, adults are treated at GMCH-32 itself.