Last Friday, Neha Shoree, a young woman officer posted in the Food and Drug Administration’s zonal licensing authority of Punjab, was shot dead in her office, apparently for doing her job. She had cancelled the chemist’s licence of the accused, a pharmacy owner, on the suspicion of drug peddling. While Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has ordered an investigation and all steps must be taken to ensure that the case reaches a quick and just conclusion, the brazenness of the crime is a horrific reminder of a longstanding nexus — between drugs and crime — in the state. The accused, described as mentally disturbed by his family, not only managed to easily procure a gun licence in a state where it can take months to do so, but was also carrying the weapon despite the election code of conduct coming into force.
Over two years ago, the Congress government rode to power amid much grandstanding on the issue of drugs. The film “Udta Punjab”, showing the nexus between drug cartels, police and politicians, had drawn people’s attention to Punjab’s building crisis. “Chitta”, a term for synthetic drugs in Punjabi, became the theme of many a poll jingle. Accusing the Akali Dal regime of complicity, the Congress promised to wipe off drug supply, distribution and consumption in the state in four weeks. Though the Amarinder Singh government launched its efforts with much fanfare, setting up a special task force with a direct line to the CM, and ordering a crackdown on the black sheep in the enforcement agencies, the drive against this menace appears to have lost urgency since.
Two years on, more than 50 per cent of villages and wards in the state continue to be in the grip of drugs as per official records. In Ferozepur, a whopping 97 per cent of villages are reeling under the influence. The situation continues to be alarming in the border belt of Tarn Taran and Amritsar (rural) as well. The police have been painfully slow in filing challans in drug-related cases, leading to hundreds of peddlers, big and small, getting bail. In what is being seen as both better enforcement and a spike in demand, drug seizures have more than doubled in the last two years — the police seized 83 kg of heroin in the last three months of 2018 against 36 kg in the corresponding period in 2017. But with the popular political narrative in the state shifting to incidents of sacrilege dating back to 2015, the drive against drugs appears to have taken a back seat. The brutal murder of an honest officer in her own office should shake the state government out of its stupor. The killing is a symptom. The state will do well to urgently treat the malaise.