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Addicted to drugs, addicted to crime

Devesh K. Pandey
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Despite a well-established correlation between substance abuse and crime in a mega-city like Delhi, the seriousness of the issue has failed to elicit a proportionate response from all the stakeholders. With drug addicts taking to street crimes for their daily dose, the issue has the potential to assume alarming proportions and pose a major threat to law and order in the Capital if left unaddressed.

Drug addicts sawing away window bars of public transport buses, hacking metal piece by piece off bridges and road dividers, stealing car batteries and utensils from homes and even assaulting pedestrians on deserted streets in the dead of night out of desperation for money is now not uncommon in the city.

Over the years, the prime focus of the Delhi Police and the anti-narcotic agencies has been to clamp down on drug peddlers and suppliers. “Our emphasis is on cutting down the supply chain, but it is almost impossible to put a complete check as illicit drug trade, which involves huge profits and is therefore a source of money generation for many across the country,” says a police officer.

The police have identified several places in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and even Jharkhand (allegedly under the protection of armed Naxals) from where illegally grown opium finds its way to manufacturing units which, having easy access to precursor chemicals, process the raw material into heroin, which is known as smack in common parlance.

In the domestic market, heroin is sold at the rate of Rs.6 to 12 lakh per kg. “It is smuggled into the Capital through carriers, most of whom are men of Bangladesh origin settled in satellite cities, for petty commissions. Local distributors who cater to the demands of vagabonds and those from the lower strata then add large quantities of cheap chemicals – in 10 (pure): 90 (chemical) ratio – and sell the stuff at Rs.100 per pudia. One pudia is sufficient for four to five persons .

Hashish is supplied from the hilly areas of Himachal Pradesh, Nepal, Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir at the rate of over Rs.6,000 per kg and ganja for Rs.4,000 to Rs.10,000 from Odisha, Bihar and also from Nepal.

Although a large number of drug peddlers and suppliers have been arrested, the problem of drug abuse on the streets of Delhi continues unabated. “We are scared of picking up drug addicts involved in criminal activities as we fear that they may die or even hurt themselves in our custody, creating all sorts of problems for us. Even if we pick them up from the streets, where should we take them?” asked a police officer. In one such incident in September 2005, a young drug addict had allegedly committed suicide in the lockup of the Adarsh Nagar police station triggering a riot.

The increasing cases of juvenile drug addicts who are in conflict with the law is also a matter of great concern for the stakeholders. “A burglary-cum-arson gang that mainly targeted government flats comprised mostly addicted minors. They once targeted a woman and her son in Sarojini Nagar and when the victims offered resistance, a gang member hit himself with a brick to terrorise them. Although the juveniles kept at observation homes are treated largely for withdrawal symptoms, once released they again go back to an environment that draws them to drugs. At present, consumption of substances like alcohol, whitener, shoe polish and adhesive solutions is on the rise. Children from even middle-class families are indulging in petty thefts at home and outside for their daily dose,” said an official, adding that substance abuse being a curable disease should rather be treated as a social problem.

Paucity of treatment and rehabilitation centres is one of the reasons behind the relapse of detoxified persons. “There are at present only three to four centres run by the Union Government and one (primarily aimed at mental health) by the State Government. There is a complete mismatch in terms of population. Private centres are profit-driven institutions having no rehabilitation programmes in place,” said the official.

Taking cognisance of the magnanimity of the issue, a working group chaired by Vinod Kumar Tikoo under the aegis of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights is carrying out a nation-wide survey in six geographical divisions, including Delhi, to collate and analyse data on substance abuse among children. NCPCR member Mr. Tikoo said: “Such an extensive study is being undertaken for the first time anywhere in the world. It focuses on children from all walks of life, including those on streets. The objective is to study the pattern, profile and correlates of substance abuse among children, and the scope of the study includes socio-economic and legal factors as well as availability of intervention for preventive and curative aspects. This will help the Commission and other stakeholders work out an effective action plan.”

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