A joint press conference by chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and Union minister for social justice and empowerment Thawar Chand Gehlot here on Friday led to a virtual showdown between the two leaders.
The occasion was the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. Gehlot, while answering a question, said Punjab ranked number one in the country in consumption of drugs.
"Our department has conducted different surveys from time to time. These have found that the percentage of drug addicts in Punjab is maximum in the country. North-eastern states Manipur, Mizoram and Meghalaya came next," said Gehlot, whose department sanctions money for different drug-related programmes.
Gehlot's statement left the chief minister red-faced with anger visible on his face and he immediately took the mike from the Union minister and condemned his statement by terming it "having no basis".
"The surveys mentioned by Gehlot are old and were done five to six years ago. Everybody is targeting Punjab but nobody understands the real problem. Nobody is bothered from where the drugs are flowing into Punjab. They are coming from outside states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh," the chief minister said.
Badal said Punjab was waging the nation's war against drugs and the state should be appreciated for this. "We have controlled the situation and in the past few years not even a single person has been added as the new addict. This is our success," he said.
Sensing the awkward situation, the Union minister tried to excuse himself and leave the conference, but Badal kept condemning the statement. Gehlot eventually left the press conference with Sampla.
Earlier, Badal also blamed the Centre for not taking steps to curb the manufacturing of synthetic drugs by pharmaceutical units situated in Himachal Pradesh.
Earlier, leaders of the two parties took jibes at each other. The start was made by SAD leader and Garshankar MLA Surinder Singh Bhulla Rathan. "All Union ministers coming from the Centre blame Punjab for drugs. But the reality is that no state has taken serious steps to curb the menace the way Punjab is doing," Rathan said.
Then it was the turn of BJP state chief Kamal Sharma who said the problem was serious on the ground. "Today itself, I visited a village in Jalandhar where I found a 33-year-old losing his life to drugs on the very day he was blessed with a son after two daughters. Strict efforts by the state and Centre are the need of the hour," he said.
This was followed by SAD leader and jails minister Sohan Singh Thandal, who said Punjab's image was being tarnished under a well-planned strategy.
"The government even suspended police officials who sheltered drug suppliers. A record number of cases have been registered. Still Punjab is being blamed. What more can a state government do, I ask the Central leaders," said Thandal.
Sampla also countered the SAD claims, saying, "As leaders we may quote that the situation is not serious in Punjab. But we all know the reality. We all feel the pain when we come on the ground. The situation in Punjab is volatile," said Sampla.