Having suffered election setbacks that have been linked to the drug problem in Punjab, a major issue during the polls, the ruling SAD-BJP has launched a crackdown. A special police drive, started immediately after the election results, has led to the arrest of 3,353 persons in just 15 days and registration of 3,000 cases against them.
The government has also dismissed 25 station house officers from the police for suspected links with drug racketeers. “We are working on identifying the black sheep within the police who are involved with drug smugglers. No one will be spared,” said Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal. The names of those dismissed haven’t been made public yet. Sources in the deputy CM’s office hinted more are in the firing line.
Outside the force, the target of the crackdown has been street operators and peddlers who deal in small quantities. Not much has been seized but police say the crackdown is essential to wipe the supply chain out. “The supply of heroin is almost finished in Punjab. White powder is not available in the market either,” said a top officer.
The government is hoping the break in supply will bring drug addicts to de-addiction centres. Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal on Tuesday reviewed the de-addiction facilities available and was reportedly told by health authorities that there is enough room.
The opposition has called the drive “thoughtless” with small operators picked up at random. Sukhbir, who also handles Home, said, “The solution lies not only in picking up peddlers and filling jails. The problem is multifaceted and requires a solution at several levels.” He has asked three IGs to prepare a comprehensive plan at various levels. “The next step will be taken only once when their report is with us next week,” Sukhbir said.
Sukhbir, also the SAD president, saw the party’s vote share drop 12 lakh in an election centred around the easy availability of drugs and the alleged links of politicians to these rackets. The opposition had targeted Sukhbir’s brother-in-law Bikram Singh Majithia for alleged links to drug smugglers, and the SAD spent much of its campaign defending him.
Majithia was named by international racketeer Jagdish Bhola in a statement to the enforcement directorate. Though Bhola was arrested by the Punjab police, the ED got into the case to investigate hawala transactions. Bhola also named Damanvir Singh, son of then jails minister Sarwan Singh Phillaur, as being involved in the racket. Just after the election results, the CM removed Phillaur.
During the two months the election code of conduct was in effect, Election Commission teams and the Punjab police recovered more drugs than from any other state. From March 5 to May 1, the police recovered drugs worth Rs 780 crore while the EC’s static surveillance teams recovered 426 kg drugs worth Rs 1.90 crore and its flying squads 767 kg worth Rs 1.80 crore.
During the elections, the non-availability of drugs, especially poppy husk or bhukki, ended up becoming an irritation. A large number of agriculture labourers consume poppy husk because they feel it helps them work long hours under the sun during the harvesting season. In Ludhiana, Faridkot and Bathinda, poppy husk consumers headed for vends in Rajasthan, where the rates doubled. On April 22, when licensed bhukki vends in Sriganganagar, Rajasthan, had nothing to supply users who had arrived from Abohar, the latter attacked the vendors, leading to eight persons being injured.
MLAs went to the extent of suggesting that the government announce that Punjab would consider making bhukki available through vends. But the SAD leadership ruled it out.