Patiala MP Dr Dharamvira Gandhi has landed in a trouble with the Punjab Police launching an investigation against him for sowing poppy seeds in Chapar village of Ludhiana district on September 28 in a symbolic protest. In an interview, Dr Gandhi says that there is logic to his demand for permission for opium cultivation and sale in Punjab and that the state government’s war on drugs is running in the wrong direction.
Why do you think the Punjab government has initiated action against you under the NDPS Act?
I do not know the logic behind this, but I have a logic. In Punjab, the cultivation of opium was done till 1955. For hundreds of years opium and poppy husk was being cultivated and consumed. I do not say that this is the ultimate solution to the problems of peasantry, but if it has some potential to alleviate their suffering, then definitely they must be given permission to cultivate opium on the basis of contract as in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. The action by Punjab government seems to be a knee-jerk reaction.
It was a symbolic protest and people of Punjab have every right to protest and warn the government. If it does not agree, they can start a non-cooperative movement and defy the law also. The fact is that the Punjab government is totally unconcerned about the miseries of the farmers and drug addicts. Everyday farmers are committing suicide and people are dying of drugs. The government is doing nothing except eye wash here and there. Poppy seeds are available in every shop in Punjab as they are used as a condiment also.
What do you have to say about the statement given by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh that the government of India must frame a policy on drugs and that cultivation of opium by Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh is leading to smuggling in Punjab?
He should rather say that if Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh can be allowed to cultivate opium, then why not Punjab. Agriculture is a state subject, but in case of opium the centre has kept the regulation to itself since Independence. He should fight for the right of the state on what it can sow and grow. The approach on drugs is changing world over. The new approach is not about punishment. The UN, which was the architect of the harsh laws in the war against drugs, has itself admitted in a recent convention that the war has failed. The scope has now changed from punishment to legalisation of minor drugs. More than 30 countries have done so, including Canada and 30 US states who have legalised marijuana. They have framed rules for its sale and they are giving it to the public in a controlled manner.
Keeping these worldwide developments in mind, how do you appraise Punjab’s war on drugs?
It is totally focussing on the supply side and not on the consumer side. We have to be consumer focussed. Of course we have to be vigilant and take harsh measures on the supply side, especially synthetic and chemical drugs, but also being soft on recreational drugs like poppy husk and marijuana. If there is demand, then the supply will always come no matter how harsh you are. Today, in Punjab, opium, laced with arsenic, is being sold. This is very dangerous and I can show you many patients suffering due to this. Some VVIPs, however, numbering around 100 are getting pure opium from civil surgeons offices through licenses, which were issued long back. I got this information through Right to Information. If VVIPs can be accomodated, then why not common man?
The counter argument being given to this is that if the sale is legalised there will be a spike in addiction.
This is totally illogical. A user is not a promoter. Punjab was using opium for ages, but there was no big spike in consumers. It is the aggressive marketing of the mafia, which results in increase of consumers and promotes drugs. When it was banned and smuggled, then it became a business for politicians, corrupt police officers and other big-wigs. This mafia promoted it in villages, colleges and schools. There is very easily availability of bhang in the state with almost every vacant field having the plants. That does not mean everyone is taking bhang. In fact drinking alcohol is a bigger problem as it is a cause for domestic violence and accidents take place due to it. But here a person drinking alcohol holds a peg and moves around in parties with great elan, but the poor man who takes opium or poppy husk has to run and hide. What nonsense! He is not a criminal. The inclusion of opium and poppy husk in NDPS Act has caused a lot of harm in personal life of people.