Jails in Punjab have for long been considered a haven of drug addicts, and the widespread menace has even been blamed for turning many non-addict inmates into habitual users of psychotropic substances and contrabands allegedly smuggled into the prisons. Now comes a step towards turning the tide.
The state government has taken up a project to set up de-addiction centres in the eight central jails in Punjab. The health department has been entrusted with the task of providing logistic support, including medication and psychiatrists, for the centres to be set up in close coordination with the prisons department.
Besides the Kapurthala central jail, where a pilot project for de-addiction is already functional for the past five months, the other central jails set to get the facility are in Amritsar, Bathinda, Gurdaspur, Ludhiana, Ferozepur, Faridkot and Patiala.
The prisons department, after making a rough assessment of probable drug addicts, has demanded a preliminary budget of at least Rs 50 lakh for each jail for medicines to be used under the 'opioid substitution therapy'.
On Wednesday, principal secretary (health) Vini Mahajan is scheduled to hold a meeting with superintendents of the central jails and other senior officials of the health and the prison departments to discuss the strategy for setting up these centres, a senior official of the health department told HT.
The plan has come after the Punjab and Haryana high court sought an explanation on steps being taken to curb drug abuse inside prisons in the light of the Kapurthala jail brawl in November 2011, when prisoners had turned violent after one of the inmates, a drug addict, died inside the jail.
After the violence, a case had been filed in the high court seeking a probe into the scale of addiction inside the jail. On April 23, a medical officer earlier posted in Kapurthala jail submitted an affidavit in the high court regarding the case, stating that about 80% of the prisoners in the central jail were drug addicts.
The medical officer also stated in his affidavit that he fully supported the demand for a CBI inquiry into the large-scale drug trafficking, corruption and other irregularities in the Kapurthala jail.
A day before this affidavit was submitted, chief minister Parkash Singh Badal held a high-level meeting with the senior officials of the health and prisons departments seeking "quick action" to curb the drug menace.
He also asked for setting up 10-bed de-addiction centres in all district hospitals of the state.
In December 2011, Punjab became the first state in the country to start a pilot project of de-addiction in the Kapurthala jail.
The step was taken after DGP, prisons, Shashi Kant met officials of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in light of the violence in the Kapurthala jail. Under this plan, 'methadone' is used under the opioid substitution therapy, a procedure of replacing the drug with a longer acting but less euphoric opioid that is taken under medical supervision.
'Methadone' has so far not been approved for such use by the union government, but is used for de-addiction in central jails in Delhi, Mumbai and Imphal.