Fear and loathing about drug dens

A main campaign issue in Punjab is the drug menace gripping the State

Updated - January 23, 2017 11:27 am IST

Published - January 22, 2017 11:01 pm IST - DAULATPUR (PUNJAB):

The doors of perception: Inmates at a drug de-addiction and rehabilitation centre at Daulatpur village on the outskirts of Patiala.

The doors of perception: Inmates at a drug de-addiction and rehabilitation centre at Daulatpur village on the outskirts of Patiala.

With the drug menace at the core of the high-voltage campaign for the Punjab Assembly elections, the political parties promise the voters that they will stamp it out if voted to power. But the “sufferers” have their doubts.

“The parties talk about eradication of drugs, but drugs have been freely available here. It doesn’t matter who is in power,” said a 42-year-old man who got addicted soon after his schooling in Patiala. He is cured of addiction at a rehabilitation centre, where he now works as a caretaker.

Speaking to The Hindu , on condition of anonymity, he said: “I got addicted to drugs in my teens. Drugs were freely available then — be it opium, poppy husk or charas extracted from cannabis. They are freely available even now. Though the governments have changed, the problem remains.”

At the Navjivan rehabilitation centre at Daulatpur, 70 km from the capital Chandigarh, patients come in for treatment. “We have patients in the age group of 20-50, but the problem is prevalent among teenagers too, and this is a cause for worry,” says Rohit Puri, who is in charge of the centre.

“Patients come here from all over the State, especially from Barnala, Moga, Phagwara, Jalandhar, Gurdaspur, Chandigarh and Patiala. In the past few years, we have noticed that the number of people addicted to heroin is on the rise,” Mr. Puri says.

Free availability

Patients say that whether it is the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP alliance or the Congress that is in power, drugs are freely available in the State. “Drugs are easily available here. Initially, during my college days, I started taking cough syrup ... Then I turned to opium and poppy husk. All these were easily available. Drug-peddlers sell openly,” says a 35-year-old man who is in the last leg of his treatment at the centre. “I have no faith in the political parties which say they will stamp out the menace.”

The drug menace is one of the issues being played up the Opposition parties to corner the SAD-BJP government.

In his campaign speeches, Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Capt. Amarinder Singh says he will wipe out the problem in four weeks after assuming office. The Congress, he says, will bring in a special law to crack down on the drug mafia, and those found guilty will be jailed and their assets confiscated.

Blaming the govt.

Aam Aadmi Party national convener and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal says the SAD-BJP government is responsible for the problem. “When an AAP government is formed, we will punish Bikram Singh Majithia and his associates who have pushed Punjab into the problem. On March 11, the election results will be declared and a government will be in place by March 22. And on April 15, we will send Majithia to jail,” he said at a meeting recently.

The government has been denying that the number of drug addicts is increasing, saying the issue has been “exaggerated”. Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal of the SAD has criticised the Congress and the AAP for “defaming” the youth of the State by calling them “drug-addicts”. Mr. Badal has said only 1.27 per cent of the 3.75 lakh youths had “tested positive” for drug abuse during a recent police recruitment drive. He has also said the government has launched a “decisive” war on drugs and has enlisted support, especially of the youth.

SAD leader and Union Minister for Food Processing Harsimrat Kaurrecently told The Hindu in an interview: “The claims about the proliferation of drugs is a pure slander by both the Congress and the AAP.”

The drug-trafficking in Punjab, through which passes 553 km of the International Border with Pakistan, has three elements: smuggling of heroin from across the border; smuggling of opium, poppy husk and ganja from across the inter-State border; and misuse of prescription drugs.

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