Doubts dog Punjab government’s claims on drug abuse crackdown
Family of people picked up in crackdown say they have been framed, opposition questions numbers released by the governmentindia Updated: May 05, 2017 11:27 IST
‘Fake’ arrests and a controversy over data have put under doubt the new Punjab government’s attempts to tackle drug abuse, one of its most important promises to the state for the elections it won in February.
Chief minister Captain Amarinder made a bold promise to rid the state of the drug “menace” within four weeks of taking oath, after a campaign in which his Congress party gunned for the Shiromani Akali Dal with allegations that the government run by them had patronised the drug mafia and left “70% of Punjabi youth drug addicts”.
In villages of Ludhiana’s Mullanpur Dakha, notorious as a “safe haven” for drug peddlers and addicts, locals said police carried out early morning raids at their homes to arrest sons going through de-addiction treatment and planted “nasheela powder” in the FIRs.
One such case is of 28-year-old Hardeep Singh, the grandson of a freedom fighter. His family released CCTV footage from a school in front of the house that shows police arriving in morning of March 25, around 8am, and taking him away.
But the first investigation report (FIR), said: “Hardeep was arrested at a police naka at 3 pm. On seeing the police, he turned and the ASI stopped him on grounds of suspicion. The ASI gave him the option of getting a gazetted officer or a magistrate to the spot but Hardeep reposed full faith in the police. The ASI tried to make one of the passers-by a witness but they refused to earn the enmity of a smuggler. During search, 100 grams nasheela powder was recovered from his pocket”.
Hardeep’s mother Surinder Kaur said he was undergoing de-addiction treatment, and showed a prescription from Guru Nanak Dev Hospital in Mullanpur. “He was in Australia for some years. After he returned, he was jobless here,” she says.
In neighbouring Mullanpur village, the family of Simranjit Singh said the police picked him from home and “planted” 10 grams of “nasheela powder”, and Gurpreet Singh’s family in Jangpur village narrated a similar story.
On Monday, the chief minister said that he had “broken the backbone of the drug syndicate in Punjab”, prompting the opposition Shriomani Akali Dal (SAD) to demand evidence.
On Tuesday, the government released figures of arrests and of drug addicts queuing up at hospitals and de-addiction centres.
But these numbers paled in comparison to statistics from 2014, when the SAD government launched a crackdown on drugs in the wake of the Lok Sabha election campaigning when the poll panel recovered more drugs in Punjab than in any other state.
The Congress government said it made 2,205 arrests in the first 40 days of coming to power while the Akalis claim during their crackdown in 2014 they had arrested 3,353 people in just 15 days.
Between the two crackdowns, the number of addicts thronging government OPDs too has seen a nine-fold decline.
Nearly 2.5 lakh addicts had come to govt OPDs and IPDs between June to August in 2014. The figure this time at government OPDs is just 18,440 in OPDs and another 1,446 in IPDs. A statement from the CM’s office claimed “huge numbers” were also being reported from private centres and hospitals.
Punjab health minister Brahm Mohindra said the 2014 campaign was a “show-off”. “The police forcibly brought addicts to de-addiction centres. Right from patwari to tehsildars, each was asked to get at least 50 people to make up the numbers,” he said.