Punjab’s war on drugs is more a war on drug addicts

42.4 per cent arrests were for possession of 5 gm or less of heroin, 100 gm or less of intoxicant powder, 50 gm or less of opium, 1 kg or less of poppy husk and 100 or less capsules or tablets.

Written by Varinder Bhatia , Navjeevan Gopal , Man Aman Singh Chhina | Chandigarh | Updated: June 9, 2016 1:30:38 pm
punjba, punjab drugs, punjab drug arrests, punjab drug problem, drugs in punjab, punjab news, drug cases punjab, punjab drug issue, punjab drug cases, india news Please save my daughter, she did no wrong: Jeet Kaur in Boot village, her daughter is in prison for possession. (Express Photo by Jaipal Singh)

In May 2014, stung by allegations of inaction over the rampant abuse and trafficking of drugs, the Punjab government launched an aggressive crackdown with Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal declaring: “We will spare no one.”

These words resonated in police stations across the state with 17,068 arrests in 2014 and 11,593 more until December 2015.

But that’s just on the surface.

READ | At Ground Zero, behind each door, a broken home

Dig deeper and what emerges is a story of a rush to rack up numbers. Punjab’s war on drugs has, in effect, turned into a war on its addicts, the most vulnerable rung at the bottom of the supply ladder.

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That’s one of the key findings of an eight-month-long investigation by The Indian Express of 6,598 FIRs made available last year under the Right to Information Act.

These FIRs were registered under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance (NDPS) Act from January 1 to December 31, 2014 in 152 police stations that fall under 14 of the 28 police districts in Punjab.

An analysis of the numbers tells the story: At least 2,555 out of the 6,028 arrests — or 42.4 per cent — were for possession of 5 gm or less of heroin, 100 gm or less of intoxicant powder, 50 gm or less of opium, 1 kg or less of poppy husk and 100 or less capsules or tablets.

District-wise chart: How people found with burnt matchsticks and silver foils were also arrested under the NDPS Act

Punjab Drug problem

“Those who have been arrested were merely small-time peddlers. No drug lord worth his name has been put behind bars. The crackdown was absolutely flawed and done to make up the numbers. It took place without any foresight and planning. Addiction is a sickness like any other disease and there is no point in putting addicts behind bars,” said Shashi Kant, former DGP (Prisons), who now runs an NGO, Nasha Virodhi Manch, to help addicts.

Punjab, punjab drugs, punjab drug arrests, Punjab drug supply, punjab drug problem, drugs in punjab, drug addicts in punjab, drug cases punjab, punjab drug issue, punjab drug cases, india news The clinic of Sarwan Singh, the “time-pass doctor” in Boot village. (Express Photo: Jaipal Singh)

Nothing illustrates the cracks in the crackdown better than police records from Boot village in Kapurthala, where 47 FIRs were filed under the NDPS Act.

The Indian Express visited Boot and investigated each of those FIRs, which together name 63 accused, to find that at least 28 — or nearly 60 per cent — were registered for possession. Details from a selection of these FIRs illustrate who this crackdown really targeted.

Consider these:

* Date of FIR: 21-01-2014
Accused: Kulwinder Kaur, 27, w/o Mohan Singh. Status: On bail
Seized: 50 gm intoxicant powder

* FIR: 24-01-2014
Accused: Baldev Singh, 45, s/o Hansa Singh. Status: On bail
Seized: 25 gm intoxicant powder

* FIR: 28-01-2014
Accused: Raju, 22, s/o Amrik Singh.
Status: On bail
Seized: 50 gm intoxicant powder

* FIR: 28-01-2014
Accused: Sarwan Singh, 37, s/o Mohinder Singh. Status: On bail
Seized: 50 gm intoxicant powder

* FIR: 17-02-2014
Accused: Malkit Singh, 19, s/o Amrik Singh. Status: On bail
Seized: 7 gm smack

* FIR: 10-03-2014
Accused: Jaswant Singh, 19, s/o Gurmeet Singh. Status: On bail
Seized: 50 capsules

* FIR: 20-05-2014
Accused: Sulkhan Singh, 19, s/o Sajjan Singh. Status: On bail
Seized: 2 gm heroin

* FIR: 15-08-2014
Accused: Lakhvir Singh, s/o Mukhtiar Singh; Swaran Singh, s/o Munsaa Singh. Status: On bail
Seized: 5 gm heroin

* FIR: 20-08-2014
Accused: Kamaljit Singh, 39, s/o Buta Singh; Kuldeep Singh, 24, s/o Swaran Singh.
Status: On bail
Seized: 45 gm intoxicant powder

* FIR: 02-09-2014
Accused: Paramjit Singh, 20, s/o Tarsem Singh (plus 2 from other villages).
Status: On bail
Seized: 5 gm heroin, 150 gm intoxicant powder

* FIR: 12-09-2014
Accused: Nirvair Singh, 19, s/o Mohinder Singh. Status: On bail
Seized: 5 gm heroin

* FIR: 19-09-2014
Accused: Rajpal Singh, 23, s/o Harbans Singh; Bagga, 22, s/o Hajara Singh.
Status: On bail
Seized: 40 gm intoxicant powder

* FIR: 23-09-2014
Accused: Balwinder Kaur, w/o Surjit Singh. Status: On bail
Seized: 20 gm intoxicant powder

* FIR: 10-10-2014
Accused: Karnail Singh, wife Jaswinder Kaur. Status: On bail
Seized: 75 gm intoxicant powder

* FIR: 27-05-2014
Accused: Jaswant Singh & Gurpreet Singh, s/o Gurmeet Singh; Gian Kaur, w/o Harbans Singh; Charan Singh, s/o Kala; Joga Singh, s/o Kala Singh; Balwinder Kaur; Satnam Singh, s/o Harnam Singh; Manga, s/o Swaran Singh; Chunni Shah, s/o Joginder Singh; Lakha Singh, s/o Gurbachan Singh (plus 8 from other villages). Status: On bail
Seized: 4 gm smack, 5 gm heroin, 10 gm intoxicant powder, 1 kg poppy husk.

“The police only focused on youngsters who were addicts since they were easy to catch. The big fish continue to roam free. There are some examples in our village where local drug lords are roaming around freely. These people have built palatial houses with the money they have earned from selling drugs. The police know about them but have done nothing because they are well-connected politically,” said Jathedar Udha Singh, the local gurudwara pradhan and a Shiromani Akali Dal worker from Boot village.

In Kang village of Gurdaspur, villagers claim the crackdown was so intense that even those found in the company of drug addicts were put behind bars.

“I used to run a medical store at the time. That day, three of my friends were standing near my store… two of them were smoking drugs. All four of us were arrested,” claimed Jaspal Singh, 40, who was arrested last October and is out on bail.

Jaspal’s father, Gurmej Singh, an ex-serviceman, says he still cannot believe what his son has been through. “He is married, has two children and has never touched drugs. Yet, we had to move around in the village with our heads hanging in shame because of this taint,” he claimed.

Hoshiarpur-based lawyer, Sandeep Sharma, who is handling the defence of at least 50 accused, alleged that police “plant recoveries on the accused in several cases”. “Even if a minuscule quantity of drug was seized, the quantity was inflated several times by planting more drugs to make up the numbers. Only the end-users were targeted and thrown inside jails,” said Sharma.

(Reporting from Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Pathankot, Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala and Ropar)

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