A crackdown against the drug menace in Punjab finally began after it emerged as a Lok Sabha poll issue and the ruling SAD-BJP coalition performed below expectations. But several reports over the past more than a decade have underlined the problem, and successive governments ignored it for years. The scale of the police operation now only underlines the enormity.
Even in 2001, a study by the Institute for Development and Communication (IDC), an autonomous research organisation, for the state government quoted a survey covering 12,300 adult males during 1995-1997, which revealed that addiction to multiple drugs was considerably prevalent. It said about 16% of population was hooked to hard drugs.
The IDC conducted another study in 2010 for the state government, in which it analysed the pervasive and intransigent nature of drug abuse and its impact on the community, especially in border districts of Ferozepur, Tarn Taran, Gurdaspur and Amritsar. It highlighted that crude, traditional narcotics such as ‘bhukki’ and ‘post’ (poppy husk) were more commonly used among the farming and labour classes, whereas synthetic drugs were prevalent among students and other youngsters. No action followed.
This year, the IDC conducted another study in which Prof PS Verma observed that the consumption of illicit drugs and alcohol had increased in Punjab in the wake of events such as elections and the harvesting season of wheat and transplantation of paddy. Motives of fetching more votes and extracting maximum work from the labourers were listed as probable factors.
This needs mention here that under the vigil of election authorities, both during the assembly polls in 2012 and in the Lok Sabha polls this year, there were huge hauls of illicit liquor and drugs from Punjab. In fact, of the total 185 tonnes of drugs seized across India during the Lok Sabha polls, 139 tonnes were recovered in Punjab alone, cited the study.
The issue finally caught attention of the government as the drug menace became a major poll issue, and even the otherwisefledgling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won all its four LS seats in Punjab on the back of antiincumbency against a regime that was seen as patronising the drug trade.
As for the Congress, former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh defeated BJP heavyweight Arun Jaitley largely due to his campaign over drug abuse. During his campaign, Amarinder claimed he never knew the enormity of the drug problem. Now, being deputy leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabbha, he has been asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi to form a national policy to check drug abuse.
The studies have been listing solutions too.
IDC director Pramod Kumar said keeping the youth meaningfully engaged was the surest assurance against the problem. Ownership of the prevention programme should be with the community, and the answer, according to him, does not lie in policing but in prevention.
He did underline that drug abuse was an all-India phenomenon, and Punjab should not be isolated. “But police enforcement alone cannot be a remedy; it can rather give way to narco-terrorism.” Kumar has also submitted recommendations to both the chief secretary and the state police department emphasising on the need to educate people against the abuse of drugs.