It is a cliché to say that Punjab has a drug problem or that it is reeling under an addiction menace. That, however, is not entirely true. In fact, Punjab actually has a politician problem and is suffering from a cop menace; and these two diseases manifest themselves in various ways, including drug trafficking and addiction. The Bhagwant Mann government has now acted against AIG Raj Jit Singh by dismissing him from service and also filing cases against him. A very welcome step indeed. But is that all? Does the people’s mandate to wage war against drug lords end with the arrest of one of the many minor cogs in the huge wheel of Punjab’s drug mafia facilitated by fraudster politicos and crooked cops?
Big or small, all drug operators of Punjab have a police connection and in that sense, Punjab’s drug problem is, of course, a cop cancer. Take, for instance, Jagdish Singh ‘Bhola’, a DSP arrested in 2013 and convicted in 2019 for peddling synthetic drugs. His case had thrown open a drug empire worth thousands of crores of rupees, wherein it was proven that synthetic drugs were being manufactured, trafficked and exported to Canada and Europe. Bhola’s case unearthed a lot of possibilities for Punjab’s top cops and politicians to understand and fix the drug problem, but they did not — for the rot was allegedly at the very top. Bhola had named then revenue minister Bikram Singh Majithia as a co-accused.
Like Inspector Inderjit Singh and Raj Jit getting sacked or punished now, Bhola was made the prime accused earlier and his political patrons were not even investigated. This time around, when the AAP government makes tall claims of tackling the drug menace in Punjab, it needs to closely read the High Court’s bail order to understand that it was shoddy investigation — first by the Congress government and then the AAP dispensation — that led to Majithia securing regular bail. The whole case seems to be hinging on a couple of statements made by the arrested accused, and also the findings of Special Task Force head Harpreet Singh Sidhu, which various governments consistently refused to pursue.
In a status report filed in 2018, Sidhu had told the court that Majithia had a close relationship with Satpreet Singh ‘Satta’, Parminder Singh ‘Pindi’, Jagjit Singh Chahal, Maninder Singh Aulakh and Amrinder Singh ‘Laddi’; Bhola was allegedly involved in the drug trade in association with Chahal, Aulakh, Laddi, Pindi and Satta; Majithia had a role in facilitating the supply of pseudoephedrine to Satta and Pindi; and the matter regarding money transactions of Majithia with Chahal and others needed to be investigated further, as also whether funds had been converted into assets abroad. Sidhu’s report referred to confession statements made to the Enforcement Directorate (ED) under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act by Bhola, Chahal and Aulakh.
Bikramjit Majathia : The Alleged Kingpin of Drug Proliferation in Punjab
But that was that — neither the ED nor Punjab Police made any further inquiry into the international drug trade originating in Punjab with obvious political patronage. Gradually, all talk of this flourishing multi-billion-rupee synthetic drug industry was drowned in the drone of seizures of a few grams of heroin here or some weed there. The real big fish were splashing in the pool while the Capt Amarinder Singh government looked askance. Shockingly, even the ED did not pursue its own case. Its former deputy director, Niranjan Singh, made a statement in December 2021 explaining that he had not disclosed any material in his possession about Majithia’s involvement in ‘financing’ of the narcotic drug-related activities either prior to 2004 or later. No wonder the ED is blamed for targeting only the Opposition. Till 2020, Majithia and his family were part of the ruling coalition at the Centre.
But why blame just Niranjan Singh, every bit of this case is outrageous. After the High Court constituted a Supervisory Investigating Team of three senior IPS officers, about 10 supplementary challans were filed on the original FIR against Bhola, but Majithia was never made an accused. It was only Harpreet Sidhu’s STF that took a bold stand against Majithia. And finally, when the Channi government did file an FIR against Majithia, it was based on Sidhu’s STF report. But again, the police never took Majithia into custody, making a mockery of the arrest. If the police did not want to interrogate him or take him to crime sites to collect evidence, or involve him in other means of establishing crime, why keep him in judicial custody? The FIR against Majithia and his arrest were, obviously, Channi’s election stunt. Once the election got over and as the case dragged on without a shred of material proof against Majithia, the High Court correctly ruled that the evidence was fragile and not credible. In fact, apart from Sidhu’s report, the prosecution had not made out a case.
But then, lack of evidence is no proof of innocence. Lack of evidence despite Sidhu’s statement — that there is sufficient evidence to investigate the role of Majithia in using government machinery, including vehicles, security personnel and other facilities for assisting, facilitating and abetting narcotic drug-related activities — only exposes bad policing. The investigators and the prosecution, which slept for over a decade, first during the Akali regime and then during Captain’s rule, have not yet woken up to file a challan in the Majithia case, making do with the dismissal of Raj Jit instead. Now, with PM Modi visiting the Akali Dal office to pay respects to Parkash Singh Badal, BJP president JP Nadda attending his funeral, and despite Union minister Hardeep Puri’s statement, there is speculation of a reunion of old partners. The people will get enraged if the political patrons of the drug trade don’t get caught by the Central and state governments, forcing them to look around for an alternative all over again.
(First Published in The Tribune)