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15 July, 2018 11:24:36 AM

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Drug menace in Punjab

No government in Punjab can afford to take the problem of drug addiction lightly and has no option but to step in and check the rot
Kumkum Chadha
Drug menace in Punjab

“This is business of death, it has cravings again and again, it’s attack is everywhere, on this side or that (read  both sides of the border) Be it guy, girl, or a woman, young people, or village people, first they fall in love with it, and then cry”
When Tejinder "Tommy" Singh, also known as "Gabru" sang Chitta Ve he took the audience by  a storm. Played by well known actor  Shahid Kapoor, the cine star protrayed as a crazy, drug-addict, dances with unimaginable energy and sets the stage on fire with his highly energetic moves.

In the song 'Chitta ve' from the film Udta Punjab, the word is used to refer to drugs, which are white in color, and the phrase 'chitta ve' is like addressing the powder itself, as if one is talking to it.

It was a film that was controversial and opened to full houses after a run in with the Censors before its release last year.The Censors had objected to the word chitta because it referred to  cocaine. The film, that opened with three Pakistani youth across the Punjab Pakistan border throwing packets of drugs across to India, had political overtones and more than its entertainment value focused on the drug menace in the state of Punjab, then ruled by the Akalis.

The uncontrolled consumption of cocaine by the protagonists who also glorified violence and drug-addiction, the film was interpreted as one that was a comment on the times and state in Punjab with the youth having easy access to drugs. It was believed that the government was complicit and a minister, a relative of the ruling family of Badals, was among those behind the free access and use of drugs. Even while the film had the right mix and ingredients with guns, adventure, speed and music in place, it got a political colour with the then opposition parties using it to paint the government black.  

That they did successfully was a given and one reason for the Akali Dal’s rout in the last state elections was the drug menace engulfing Punjab and state government sometimes encouraging it and at other times turning a blind eye to the menace that was assuming dangerous proportions. Udta Punjab impacted the polls because it depicted the nexus between drug cartels, police and politicians.

This somehow rang true because the then Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, and his  deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal did what it took to hammer that Punjab is being defamed as the drugs hub of the country. Incidentally, Sukhbir Singh’s brother-in-law and a minister, Bikram Singh Majithia,  was in the eye of a storm. He had some years ago been  questioned by the Enforcement Directorate  in connection with its probe into alleged money laundering in a multi-crore international drug racket case

Therefore, no government in Punjab can afford to take the menace lightly and has no option but to step in and check the rot before it raises its head and assumes proportions that can be alarming, dangerous and also destructive.

 Punjab is among the top five states in the country in terms of seizures of opium and heroin in 2014. According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) report, in 2014, over  500 kg of opium and 636 kg of heroin were recovered in Punjab. Hence it was no surprise when the current Chief Minister of the Congress Party Amarinder Singh took the unprecedented step and issued orders mandating an annual drug test for all government employees, including new recruits.

According to the new order, employees will be tested for drugs before being considered for promotion and it will be conducted apart from the annual medical check.

  Grappling  with the drug menace, several legislators have often accused each other of consuming narcotics. There were also reports of police personnel being involved in consumption of drugs.

The 16-month Congress government in Punjab is in a spot after a spate of deaths, allegedly due to drug overdose or the use of adulterated heroin. Chief Minister’s  swearing  by the holy Gutka Sahib to wipe out within four weeks of coming to power, has come to haunt his government with reports suggesting a surge in the deaths of addicts.

The apparent surge in such cases comes at a time when the government is implementing an ambitious mission called 'Tandrust Punjab', meant to improve the people's physical and mental health by taking care of the state's air, water and food quality.

Given that the 2019 Lok Sabha polls are on the anvil, the state Cabinet recently recommended to the Centre to allow death penalty for drug peddlers and smugglers, a move that does  not have many takers. The CM also met the initiators of ‘Black Week Against White’ campaign on the social media to create awareness about the problem.

Since 1985, when the Act first came up till date, several amendments were incorporated introducing most stringent penal framework for activities relating to narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances, fines and classifying the quality and quantity of the drugs seized. Later the sections were amended making death sentence optional.

While there are different views on the last with many feeling that death sentence is not a deterrent, the current situation in Punjab warrants strict measures. The state government’s claim that addicts were resorting to the use of concoctions due to scarcity and high price of drugs, has some basis and as the Chief minister said:

“The pressure mounted on the drug smugglers and mafia had choked the supply lines, forcing addicts to go for concoctions, which were resulting in instantaneous deaths,” the chief minister said.

Against this backdrop one cannot ignore the fact that the demand for drug tests of legislators and political leaders of various parties has often been raised in the Assembly.

Of course there is a view that dope tests should be conducted on politicians and elected representatives given that they should lead by example but that seems to be a ‘no-go”. Even the Chief Minister stopped at saying that he is ready for a dope test but did little to get one done. AAP MLA Aman Arora however took the lead and after getting tested challenged the Chief Minister to get himself tested. Had Singh done so, it would have paved the way for his ministers and party MLAs to follow suit but it seems that when it comes to himself, the Chief Minster is quick on words while falling terribly short on action.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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