It is not secret that the Drug menace in Punjab has taken exponential proportion. It has been a big issue in every poll including the 2017 assembly elections in Punjab. Congress gathered much support in the last assembly elections with a promise that if brought to power it will break the supply line of drugs within a month. But even after being in power for over 2 years, the drug problem continues unabated across the state.
Several videos which went viral over the social media show young college and university students taking drugs. Even newly married girls who are addicted to drug abuse are finding it difficult to shed the habit and are putting their married life in jeopardy. The problem is not restricted to the typical demographic of unemployed youth; it is rampant across the social spectrum to include rich and p[or, male and female, teenager and grownups; no part of the state is free from the menace.
The business of drugs sprawls from the poppy fields of Afghanistan to the farms of rural Punjab and drawing rooms of Ludhiana and Chandigarh, involving a vast variety of actor’s such as the unemployed rural youth, urban rich brats, spoilt college girls, bored housewives and even cops. No wonder, the Punjab government recently ordered all its employees to undergo drug tests.
Most commonly abused drugs in Punjab are the three opium derivatives – raw opium, poppy husk and heroin – followed by medications sold over the counter. Of the three, Heroin is the most expensive costing between 4000 – 6000 rupees for a gram. An addict usually consumes half a gram to two grams in a single day. Despite its hefty price tag, heroin remains popular among addicts regardless of social class and income. This has led to phenomenon where addicts turn to peddling as a source of income and to sustain their habit.
Even the policemen are said to be part of the drug trade. According to a report, more than 100 Punjab Police personnel, including senior officials of the rank of DSPs have been arrested for smuggling drugs or abetting the trade since 2014.
In the last few years, while the business and economy in the state has witnessed a downward slide the drug trade has flourished. It is so because of addicts turning peddlers and the widely alleged political patronage to the drugs trade. Many people have a stake in the drug trade since it generates high profits; many leverage the phenomenon to further their political interests.
It is plausible that entities in Pakistan facilitate the movement of drugs into Indian Punjab as part of a political strategy. Some domestic sections of the law enforcement become active participants as well for monetary reasons. It is for this reason that drugs are being flagged as a big challenge to opening of the Kartarpur Corridor.
After coming to power in Punjab in 2017, the Amarinder Singh led government had set up a Special Task Force (STF) to curb the drug menace in the state. It did some good work in the initial stages but soon became a victim of politics. Attempts are being made to resurrect the same. Only time will ascertain the degree of impact.
Drug seizures from Punjab are ever increasing. Recently Heroin worth over 2700 crores was seized. It is said to be the largest drug seizure ever in the history of Punjab. But this has failed to have any impact on the Drug problem in the state.
On the other side the state lacks infrastructure to rehabilitate the addicts. There is shortage of professional and equipped rehabilitation centres which can help the addicts, who want to kick the habit. Most of the times, the addicts land in illegal and unregistered de-addiction centres where they are tortured and not provided the required medical help to kick their addiction. This leads them back to the habit with no hope of return to normal life.
There is a deep nexus between gangs and politicians. Smugglers change loyalty with change of government. Most arrested persons are just peddlers; the actual kingpins of drug trade remain out of reach of police. In a number of cases of influential smugglers, police submitted weak evidence and they are acquitted.
Seizures lead to price of drugs going up, which result in increase in other crimes by addicts to fulfil their addiction. Due to scarcity, many suppliers take recourse to deadly concoctions that are cheaper than unadulterated product. This has also led to many deaths. Also, this leads the addicts to opt for medical prescription drugs, illegal sale of which has been growing steadily in Punjab.
Notwithstanding all attempts made by respective governments in Punjab to conceal or euphemise drug abuse, the fact remains that time and again, various think tanks and independent researchers have come out with reports which shed light on the menace and reiterate that adequate action has not been taken to holistically address the menace. There is a need to highlight the lack of foresight and perspective in dealing with this issue.
The lack of urgency in rooting this evil out of the society is leading to a heavy price being paid by the people, especially the younger population. To leave everything to the government is not going to fetch the required dividends in such a serious situation. Society as a whole should join hands with the government to eradicate the hazard.