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Friday, May 29, 2020

The Never Ending War on Drugs

Punjab Police crackdown on the existing supply network has made smugglers adapt to other routes.

Written by Navjeevan Gopal | Chandigarh | Updated: March 18, 2020 5:04:28 am
drug menace punjab, amrinder singh, drug punjab, Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances, NDPS Act, punjab news, indian epxress news Syringes discarded after being used for injecting drugs at village in Punjab. (Photo: Gurmeet Singh)

Despite a crackdown in which nearly 35,000 cases were registered and over 42,000 persons arrested under the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act and more than 1000 kg of heroin seized in the last three years by various state agencies, Captain Amarinder Singh government continues to grapple with the daunting task of eradicating the scourge of drugs from the state.

The drug mafia seems undeterred by the state’s war on drugs and Punjab remains a preferred destination for drugs smuggled not only from across the border with Pakistan, but also through sea, road and air route. Last June, the Customs Department at Attari Integrated Check Post had nabbed a whopping 532-kg of heroin, which had made its way from Pakistan in a consignment of rock salt. In January this year, the anti-drug Special Task Force (STF) seized 194-kg of heroin from a rented house in Amritsar, which was used to refine the drug by engaging an “expert” from Afghanistan.

A government functionary said that due to crackdown on existing supply chain, the drug mafia was taking to land route, sea route and even air route to smuggle drugs into Punjab.

The functionary said that while much emphasis was on enforcement, a more comprehensive approach was needed for de-addiction and prevention.

“It is the addicts who create the demand. The focus should be to bring a large number of addicts to treatment facilities. Also, the approach to tackle drugs should also focus on prevention because if there are fresh cases of youth getting hooked to drugs, it would render the exercise to treat already addicted youth a futile one,” said the functionary.

The functionary said more than 3.5 lakh addicts were getting treatment in various government and private de-addiction centres.

Magnitude of substance use

As per Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment’s “Magnitude of Substance Use in India 2019” based on “National Survey on Extent and Pattern of Substance Use in India”, there are 5.7 lakh people in Punjab who need help for opioid related problems. Punjab is at number two in the category after UP, which tops the chart with 10.7 lakh people needing help for opioid related problems. A total of 5.7 lakh people in Punjab need help for cannabis related problems. As per the survey, 44 per cent of existing alcohol users are dependent on it. The survey also noted a high proportion of children reporting alcohol use (more than thrice the national average) in Punjab.

Former Guru Nanak Dev University Professor Ranvinder Singh Sandhu says, “The government has failed to understand the problem. The focus is on ‘chitta’ (heroin) alone. Alcohol dependence is a big problem. The government should study national-level data mentioned in Magnitude of Substance Use in India 2019 report and plan a comprehensive strategy. The lopsided and piecemeal approach is not going to work. When the diagnosis is not correct, the prescription cannot help.”

Sandhu’s 2009 study, “Drug Addiction in Punjab: A Sociological Study” had revealed that only 5.1 per cent of drug addicts from a sample size were heroin dependent.

Dr P D Garg, a psychiatrist at the Amritsar-based Swami Vivekanand De-addiction and Treatment Centre, said: “People continue to consume drugs”. He added, “STF is making an honest effort, but the drug mafia is very strong.”

In the 50-bed de-addiction centre, Dr Garg said, around 20 beds were unoccupied at present. “The number keeps on changing. There was a time when we had accommodated 70 addicts against the capacity of 50 in the de-addiction centre,” said Garg.

Punjab plans slew of measures

In its fourth year, Amarinder Singh government plans a slew of measures to fight drug menace in the state. In a top-level video conference chaired by Chief Minister’s Special Principal Secretary Suresh Kumar earlier this month, it was discussed that while as compared to other states Punjab led in registration of NDPS Act cases, but the “conviction rate” in NDPS Act cases was “lower than the national average”. All Deputy Commissioners and district police chiefs were directed that there should not be any dereliction while dealing with NDPS Act cases and in case someone is bailed out due to dereliction on the part of any employee, strict action should be taken against that person.

As per the official data, 312 accused got bail during the period between October 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019 in intermediate and big quantity drug cases. For heroin, any seizure of 250 gm or more is bracketed into commercial quantity. As per an official of STF, “The number of bails in commercial quantity has come down considerably as compared to earlier years and in 2019, only six persons got bail in commercial quantity cases.”

Failure to submit challans in stipulated period of time is one of the reasons that accused get bail from the court. In small and intermediate quantity NDPS Act cases, the stipulated time to file challan in the court is three months, while in commercial quantity the time is six months.

As per the official data, as on December 31, 2019, a total of 3200 cases of small, intermediate and big quantity cases were pending for challans across districts, with Amritsar (Rural) at the top with 709 such cases, followed by Bathinda (383 cases), Hoshiarpur (336 cases) and Kapurthala and Ludhiana (Rural) with 244 such cases each.

In the meeting, the STF also mooted a proposal to take up with Centre the amendment of NDPS Act to deny “routine” parole to drug smugglers. An official of the STF said this was proposed “since smugglers jump the parole and while out on parole indulge in drug smuggling”.

The meeting also discussed ways to reduce “No FIR” time period from five years to one year to declare any village or ward drug free. The proposal comes at a time when Punjab is now two years away from the Assembly elections. An official said that earlier a note was circulated which said that the villages or wards where no FIR relating to NDPS Act case was registered in five years was to be declared drug free.

As per the official data, a total of 547 villages and wards were identified as being vulnerable to drugs between October 1, 2019 and December 31, 2019.

The participants in the meeting also mulled involving elected representatives of the area in the anti-drug campaigns. The meeting also mooted strict action against police officials found involved in drug trade.

As per the data, from October 1, 2019 to December 2019 alone, 50 police officials were “identified” for either taking drugs or promoting drugs. Out of them action was taken against 16, who were either transferred out of Range or dismissed from service.

OOAT centres, DAPO, Buddy programme

There are 194 government Outpatient Opioid Assisted Treatment (OOAT) Centres which have been set up between October 26, 2017 and December 31, 2019 where alternate medicines in the form of buprenorphine and naloxone are given to addicts. The same medicines are also given at 107 private de-addiction centres. Out of the total of 1.15 lakh patients registered in government OOAT centres and 2.5 lakh in private de-addiction centres, 1.09 lakh and 1.95 lakh patients visited these centres, respectively. Five crore buprenorphine tablets worth Rs 200 crore were found to have been used by private de-addiction in an unauthorised manner last year and a probe is on into the case. It was discussed in the meeting earlier this month that all Civil Surgeons would ensure that there was no shortage of staff and medicine at OOAT centres.

On the Drug Abuse Prevention Officer (DAPO) programme, there was discussion in the meeting as to which monetary incentives could be given to DAPOs. The Punjab government is planning to register every government employee as DAPO by March 23.

The government is also planning to enhance the outreach of Buddy programme wherein it is contemplating that senior Buddies will ask Buddy students to share the programmes activities on WhatsApp groups of their parents and friends.

Situation same as before 2017 : Cheema

“Largely, consumers of drugs with small quantities are being arrested. They get bailed out within 15-20 days or a month. They are not being treated as mandated by the law. Number of FIRs does not mean that drug problem has been controlled. Where has the supply chain been broken? (Habit forming) tablets, poppy husk, smack, heroin and other drugs are easily available. Nothing has changed in three years. It is same as it was before 2017. They say that drugs are making their way to Punjab from places like Madhya Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Afghanistan. Have they arrested any supplier of these drugs from those places? The Punjab police-politicians-drug smugglers nexus continues. There is no change.”

Harpal Singh Cheema, Leader of Opposition and AAP MLA

Drug problem spiked under Cong: Sukhbir

“Rather than controlling the problem of drugs, the government has increased it. Now, the medicine used for treatment, the buprenorphine, has become a drug itself. If you have one tablet it is for de-addiction. But if you are given two or more tablets of buprenorphine, it is very addictive. It gives the same kick which the addicts get from other drugs. The government has introduced a new drug known as Congress pill. They give new de-addiction centres to persons close to them. They used to get tablet for a cost of Rs 2-3 and they started selling it for Rs 30. These de-addiction centres became distribution centre for drugs. Five crore tablets of buprenorphine go missing and there is no action. This should be treated as per same law, treating it as narcotics.”

Sukhbir Singh Badal, SAD president

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