The drug menace of Punjab, which Captain (Retd) Amarinder Singh had sworn by the holy Gutka Sahib to eradicate within four weeks of coming to power, has come to haunt his government with reports suggesting an increase of the death of drug addicts.
The 16-month-old Congress government in Punjab is in limbo after a spate of deaths, allegedly due to drug overdose or the use of adulterated heroin.
The apparent rise in such cases comes at a time when the government is implementing an ambitious mission called ‘Tandrust Punjab’, aimed at improving people’s physical and mental health by improving air, water and food quality of the state
Wary of a public backlash if it fails to address the threat ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the state Cabinet recently recommended the Center to allow the death penalty for drug dealers and smugglers, a move that some activists they call it a “naive” reaction. .
Under immense pressure from social activists and opposition parties, the state government has also announced mandatory drug tests for all government employees.
This angered them and even triggered a political slugfest with the main opposition Aam Aadmi party, daring the Prime Minister to set an example by coming forward to do the test himself.
However, the Shiromani Akali Dal, whose previous coalition government has been accused of patronizing the drug mafia, urged people to rise above political affiliations and fight a “total war” against an enemy common
According to reports, around 20 people died last month in Punjab due to drug overdose, although the state health department confirmed only two deaths.
Some videos purportedly showing drug addicts dying of drug overdose have also surfaced on social media, adding to the pressure on Captain Singh.
But the state government says it is acting effectively against the problem.
A special task force formed by Captain Singh soon after coming to power claimed to have cracked down on the supply of drugs, particularly heroin, to the state.
It is argued that it is this “lack” that forced drug addicts to consume adulterated drugs, which led to deaths.
“The intensive action plan developed and executed by us over a year has resulted in the arrest of 18,977 drug dealers and the treatment of more than two lakh drug victims,” said Captain Singh.
But opposition parties blame the “nexus” between the police and drug dealers for the problem and accuse the state government of failing to tackle it.
“The inquiry into the recent drug-related deaths should be handed over to a high court-controlled CBI team so that a fair and proper inquiry is conducted,” an AAP leader said.
A study by premier medical institute PGIMER claimed last September that around 2.70 lakh people in Punjab are addicted to drugs like opium, heroin, poppy husk and synthetic drugs.
RS Ghuman, Professor of Economics at the Center for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID), said the “slowdown” of the economy and unemployment were the main factors driving youth to drugs.
Professor Ghuman, who is doing a study on drug abuse in northwest India, insisted on smashing the “nexus” between the police and drug dealers at the country level.
The problem cannot be tackled unless young people are gainfully employed and a serious effort is made to boost economic growth, he said.
Noted economist and Padma Bhushan awardee Sardara Singh Johal has asked the youth to form groups to stop the supply of drugs in their villages, saying the state government could not do it alone.
“Sober youths should stand like a wall in their villages and prevent drug suppliers from selling any kind of intoxicant,” said Mr. Johal who supports a campaign called “Black Week against Chitta (drug )”.
The Punjab government claimed to have arrested 18,977 drug dealers and registered 16,305 cases from March 16, 2017 to June 24, 2018.
Seizures during this period amounted to 378 kg of heroin, 117 kg of charas and 14 kg of smack, along with varying amounts of other drugs, officials said.
The government has also set up a special task force to monitor daily the action being taken to check drug abuse.
Punjab has more than 130 drug disaddiction centers and about 100 rehabilitation centers.
Last year, the health department launched an Outpatient Opioid Assisted Treatment (OOAT) program to provide outdoor health care to drug addicts.
So far, more than 8,000 patients have registered and are being treated. The total turnover at the OOAT clinics was recorded at 2,74,938, said a health department official.
The death penalty, however, does not work, according to the city’s human rights lawyer Navkiran Singh.
“The death penalty is not a solution to combat the drug problem,” he said, calling it a mere knee-jerk reaction and recalling that the government had not even called an all-party meeting on drug abuse in the state