Easy availability and low cost make alcohol the favourite intoxicant of the youth in these semi-hills of Punjab. As the sun goes down in Dhar block along Himachal Pradesh, long queues appear outside liquor shops that are open in almost every village. It's a region where cannabis grows in abundance and tobacco pouches are sold at almost every roadside joint, yet these substances are second choice.
These gorges are safe havens of drug addicts. "The regulars there are from lower Punjab," said Bengali artist Prabal Pramanik, settled in Dhar for 40 years. "The local youth are lucky the cost factor has kept them away from drugs," he added. He holds seminars to educate youth against drug abuse but regrets that he has failed to motivate them to quit alcohol.
"On the national highway to Jalandhar, Channi village on the Himachal Pradesh border is the hub of country liquor. It is on our radar," said senior superintendent of police (SSP) Rakesh Kalia. Recently, the state police and their counterparts from Himachal Pradesh arranged a seminar near this village, where the youth pledged to keep away from all addictions.
"My team is on job to make the area drug-free," said the SSP. "We are not only catching the culprits but also trying to educate the youth with the help of volunteer organisations," he added.
"The abundance of liquor ships needs to be controlled," said senior citizen BD Chugh. "The state government will have to get of its lust for taxes from the sale of alcohol. Then only our youth will be free of addiction," he argued.
A de-addiction centre is going to open at Pathankot Civil Hospital. "We want maximum drug and alcohol addicts reformed," said senior medical officer Dr Bhupinder Singh, "we have set a high target."