Updated: February 15, 2022 6:41:08 pm
Not far from where the movie ‘Udta Punjab’ was shot in the villages near Bhikhiwind, the drugs problem of Punjab is once again in focus in the run-up to the state’s Assembly polls.
‘Udta Punjab’ was released in June 2016 just months before the previous Assembly polls and captured the public imagination over drug addiction in the state much to the annoyance of the then SAD-BJP government. Five years later, the Congress is in danger of losing votes due to the same issue with bitter complaints about the free flow of ‘chitta’ (white narcotic powder).
Just a short distance away from Bhikhiwind, down the road to Khemkaran, lies the village of Algon Kothi. A pitched tank battle was fought between the Indian and Pakistani armies in this village in the 1965 war, in the Battle of Assal Uttar, at the end of which the surrounding area earned the sobriquet of ‘Graveyard of Patton Tanks’ after the Pakistan Army was vanquished.
Subedar Gurcharan Singh (retd) says the village is now fighting a pitched battle against drugs. “One of the most well-off families in our village lost two sons to drug addiction recently. When a local Congress leader went to condole the family members, the mother of the dead youths started wailing and blaming him for pushing drugs in the village. The family has now sent another son to a far-off place to save him from this menace,” he says.
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The retired Army man steps out in the village street and points out houses where persons addicted to drugs reside. “We blamed the Akalis for the menace but they have been gone for five years now. Little has changed during the Congress rule. What do we do,” he adds.
The village has a fair number of retired Army and Central Armed Police Forces personnel. They have now decided to form a committee which will take steps to push out drugs from the village because the panchayat has not been able to do anything.
Nachhatar Singh, a retired postal employee who runs a shop in the same village says, “Blessed are those houses which have their children serving elsewhere in the Army or security forces. They are safe from drugs”.
In Bhikhiwind, a brand-new drug de-addiction centre has opened up in the main market of the town. But with just five beds it is woefully inadequate to deal with the problem at hand. The young man at the reception says it will be operational by the first week of March as a doctor will arrive from Rajasthan.
“Just a few days ago, drug addicts held a demonstration in Bhikhiwind. They are undergoing de-addiction treatment at government-run centres and were demanding that the dose of de-addiction drugs should be increased,” says Inderbir Singh, sarpanch of Pahuwind village nearby.
Former Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh’s pre-poll promise to finish off the drug trade in Punjab within weeks of taking over the government has come back to haunt the Congress government. “Kee kar leya Captain ne te kee kar leya Channi ne? (What did the Captain do and what has Channi done?). One tablet of ‘chitta’ is available in my area for Rs 350. I have seen my co-worker’s life getting ruined because of his addiction. He even stole my motorbike to pay for drugs,” says Dalip Singh, a safai worker in Amritsar.
Data released by the Election Commission (EC) says security teams have seized psychotropic substances worth Rs 325 crore ever since the model code of conduct was imposed in Punjab.
According to the Chief Electoral Officer, S Karuna Raju, enforcement teams of the EC have also seized illicit liquor worth Rs 30 crore and that nearly 28,000 nakas are being operated throughout the state to check the supply of liquor, drugs and unaccounted cash.
However, residents of the city and villages claim drugs and liquor are freely available even in the run-up to the elections. “I can take you to the place where you can easily buy it,” says a youth in Amritsar who does not want to be named.
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