Rising Drug Abuse In Punjab
It’s a problem that has only grown in proportion with time, more so, when it comes into focus, as it usually does, around election. Growing drug abuse is a prime electoral agenda for political parties, a matter of concern for health officials and an evil menace for Punjab’s youth. One that threatens to wipe out the state’s future.
Amidst high voltage dramas currently being enacted by both Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal over the growing drug abuse, one important thing is still not getting its due attention—how big actually is the problem of drugs in the state? Ironically, even as the issue has become a matter of national concern, with even the Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing worry, there have been no official comprehensive surveys conducted by Punjab’s health department to fathom the viciousness of the situation. Yet, the gravity came to fore with the statement submitted by secretary of the department of social security, women and child development, Harjit Singh to the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Harjit Singh stated in an affidavit: “More than two-thirds of the state’s rural households has at least one drug addict. The vibrancy of Punjab is a myth. Many sell their blood to procure their daily doze of deadly drugs, even beg on streets for money to continue their addiction. The entire punjab is in grip of drug hurricane which has weakened the morale, physique and character of the youth. We are in danger of losing the young generation.”
Punjab’s strategic position is one of the reasons why the state is in deeper throes of drug addiction than others. It shares a 553km border with Pakistan and is the main transaction point for drugs in the country. The drug route is established—from Afghanistan to Pakistan and entry into India through highly porous border of Punjab on its way to Delhi and rest of the country.
It is not just liquor that is wasting away the men folk in this otherwise verdant border state. Though it is a major part of the problem—about 33 crore bottles of liquor are consumed in Punjab every year, among the highest in the country. Liquor vends are the first to open in the morning and last to down their shutters—you may not get groceries or medicines 24×7 but you can still get a liquor bottle.
Ironically, the state government is milking its people dry on liqor as it continues to earn the highest revenue from excise collections—up from Rs 3,500 crore three years ago to over Rs 5,000 crore target in 2015. There has been a silent revolution against liquor changing scenario in the villages. Armed with provisions of Section 40 of thePunjab Panchayati Raj Act that empowers panchayats to close liquor shops in their villages, residents of 140 villages from various districts, including 43 in Sangrur and 26 in Patiala have submitted applications to the authorities, pleading that the vends in their villages be closed. In Sangrur at several places, women, who bear the brunt of alcoholism as their husbands lie idle and beat them up in drunken stupor, attacked liquor vends, forcing their closure.
Yet liquor is only a ‘traditional’ evil plaguing its people. There are newer, modern and more vicious forms of drugs giving a high to the state’s increasingly wasted youth. Today about estimated 66 per cent of Punjab’s youths are thought to be taking medical or synthetic drugs. An estimate by a doctor who is part of the state’s de-addiction effort is that two of every 10 people admitted to the de addiction centres are below 16 years of age.
The districts of Amritsar, Taran Taran, Gurdaspur are among those that have an alarming number of youngsters hooked on to intravenous drugs. Every shady alley, abandoned place has sinister groups of youngsters seeking a high by sharing needles that make them vulnerable to deadly diseases like HIV.
The statistics in Punjab are staggering -one out of three college students is on drugs. Almost every third family has an addict.Every kind of drug is available and consumed—smack, heroin and synthetic drugs to over the counter drugs like injections and capsules.
“Children as young as seven-year-old are hooked on to drugs. The schools in border areas like Taran Taran, Amritsar and Gurdaspur are more like meeting place for addicts as a large number of students are hooked to opium, smack, injections. Even their parents know it and have themselves passed the habit on to them,”says Rakshinder Kaur, a matric teacher in a government school in Taran Taran.
Political parties however are out only to exploit the situation—a week before the polling date in the past Assembly elections—Election Commi-ssion officials had impounded close to 3 lakh capsules along with 2000 injection vials of Avil and 3000 cases of Recodex cough syrup. The seizure also included 136 kg of heroin, 14,823 kg of poppy husk, 76.2 kg of opium and 47 kg of cannabis along with a huge haul of illicit liquor.
Nearly 30 percent of jail inmates have been arrested under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act. The DGP has admitted he cannot control the flow of drugs into prisons and that the political bigwigs run the show. Former Director General of Police Shashi Kant says, “As additional director general of police I had submitted a report with a list of various sitting ministers and MLAs of all political parties who are profiting from this dark enterprise.”
There have been scandalous revelations by drug dealers implicating top political leadership. A year ago, Jagdish Bhola, a suspended deputy superintendent of police accused of drug trafficking revealed “I am just a pawn in the hierarchy of drug trade in the state—the real kingpins are politicians.”
Bhola is accused of masterminding a huge synthetic drug racket and is believed to have been a supplier during the campaign in Punjab’s last state assembly elections. On his revelations, police have arrested Maninder Singh Aulakh, a local treasurer of ruling Shiromani Akali Dal, even as the high profile Cabinet Minister and brother in law of the Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal, Bikramjit Singh Majithia is being interrogated by various agencies.
Till political will in the state becomes stronger not to exploit and fuel people’s drug habits, there is little hope for the future of youth in Punjab.
By Priya Yadav from Chandigarh