Respected chief minister Parkash Singh Badal,
This is an open letter to you to help your government deal with one of the biggest challenges Punjab faces today: drug abuse and trafficking, which has ruined thousands of young lives. In fact, it may be a generation of youth as is being perceived. I am informed that police recruitment is failing to enroll enough young men. They are failing to qualify!
Just two days ago, I tweeted my offer to serve and save my home state, Punjab, from the drug problem. I listed out the reasons on why my experience could be of use. My tweets drew considerable attention with many volunteering their services too. Some suggested I write to you. Hence, here is an open letter which will not get lost in the files.
My learnings in the field of drug trafficking, consumption and prevention are part of the holistic plan for drug abuse management. What triggered this feeling to support you came from your announcement of setting up treatment clinics across Punjab in the next three months. This left me relieved and worried at the same time because treatment requires to be augmented with support before and after.
This means firmly checking the supply of drugs as well as rehabilitation after treatment. This is why I decided to make my experience available in the field of drug abuse, treatment and law enforcement of 35 years. Please treat this open letter as a possible plan of action.
While in active police service, my NGO called Navjyoti India Foundation ran drug abuse treatment centres from 1986 to 2012. We treated thousands of addicts, several from Punjab. We can learn from experience and cut costs and increase the success rate.
Family support vital
The de-addiction programme depends on family support. The family has to be associated during and after care. How we involve them is vital. At Navjyoti, we had formed capable groups that brought families together to handle after care. The treatment of addicts is not mere hospital care. We need to involve voluntary support groups. The government must do what it must but involving civil society groups to contribute in what they are experts in helps.
Build on experience
We will need to put these training plans in place. We have manuals and processes that can be shared. The names of experts such as doctors, counsellors, managers, volunteers and family support groups can also be shared. We can build on experienced resources rather than starting from a scratch and falter. There is no time to waste to reduce the demand for drugs. We must tap in resources within the state too.
A major learning that I can share is based on my experience of law enforcement. I reduced considerable crimes of drug peddling, abuse and trafficking through effective crime control measures in various capacities as the district police chief in Delhi, deputy director of the Narcotics Control Bureau and DIG (Mizoram range), where smuggling from across the Indo-Myanmar border was a challenge, and later as inspector general, Tihar. I can, therefore, help law enforcers to chart out a plan to ensure supply reduction. But this demands good coordination.
Only demand reduction and opening de-addiction clinics without supply cut will nullify all efforts. Hence, supply reduction must go hand in hand with treatment or demand reduction. The real challenge will be accountability of the local police station areas from where drugs are being smuggled. Persons with dubious past records and local intelligence will have to be ensured. Working independently and also in cooperation with elected representatives holds the key. Government agencies who can considerably contribute are the Customs, border police, Narcotics Control Bureau and others which can be identified on the ground.
Additionally, based on my prison management experience, we will need proper drug abuse treatment centres there too. Because crime and drug abuse is strongly inter-related, once we mount pressure on demand and supply, the prison population will jump. Hence, we have to make arrangements there so that addicts get treated and released in recovered health. We must ensure our prisons are drug-free.
I did my doctorate in the field of drugs and domestic violence and found that women are prime victims of addicts at home. Mothers and wives are soft targets for money to buy drugs. Navjyoti treated more than 20,000 addicts. Our success was a product of community policing and crime prevention where we involved civil society, village pradhans, youth and teachers to promote drug prevention.
My experience is for the larger good and I want Punjab to get back to good health. I want to give my home state something in return, as gratitude for all that it has given me.
(The writer is a civil society activist and the first woman IPS officer)