As drugs dominate discourse again, Capt Amarinder feels the heat of death spurt
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As drugs dominate discourse again, Capt Amarinder feels the heat of death spurt

Reports suggest that the government’s crackdown hit drugs supply, leading to addicts taking other chemicals which has caused spurt in deaths.

punjab Updated: Jul 08, 2018 11:05 IST
Ravinder Vasudeva
Ravinder Vasudeva
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Amarinder Singh,drug deaths,crackdown
There have been reports that due to a shortage in supply of chitta, some addicts have started directly injecting themselves with other chemicals, including a substance called ‘cut’, leading to the spurt in deaths. (Representative image)

Towards the end of June, a heart-wrenching video from Dhotian village of Tarntaran district in Punjab showed an eight-year-old Sikh boy, Jaspreet, trying to prod his father awake. He is telling his father to drop him off at school. The Class 2 student doesn’t know that his father, 29-year-old vegetable seller Gurbhej Singh, is dead. Gurbhej died at home of a drug overdose, with a syringe injected in his left arm.

Gurbhej, whose wife divorced him because of his drug addiction, leaving their two children (Jaspreet and daughter Navpreet Kaur) with him, was the sole breadwinner of the family. Attempts by his mother to cure him of his addiction had failed.

“My life started turning into hell as my son started taking drugs . I also sold my only acre of farmland for his treatment. Now, I don’t have any clue how I will take care of my two grandchildren,” said Sawinder Kaur, 60, Gurbhej’s widowed mother.

In one more horror tale earlier in June, two brothers identified as Sourav and Nitin were found dead in Amarnagar in Jalandhar. The police recovered injectable drugs and some other banned substances from near the bodies. Their mother Paramjit Kaur didn’t know they were into drugs.

They were just three of the 30 deaths caused last month by drug overdoses in Punjab, rattling the Congress government of chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, who came power in assembly elections last year by vowing to root out the drug menace in the state. Failure to control the spread of drugs was also the reason for the ouster of the Shiromani Akali Dal- Bharatiya Janata Party coalition government.

When he assumed charge of the Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee (PPCC) in December 2015 , Amarinder Singh had publicly taken a religious pledge by holding a copy of the “Gutka Sahib”, a Sikh holy book. He said that if he came to power, he would wipe out drugs from Punjab within four weeks.

Now, he is clearly feeling the heat, with questions being raised on his government’s resolve in tackling the menace.

As chief minister, Amarinder has tried cracking down on drugs by forming a Special Task Force (STF) headed by additional director general of police Harpreet Sidhu. And till before the fresh sudden spurt in drug-related deaths, the government seemed confident that it had curbed the menace to a great extent and at least, had pushed the issue out of the political discourse in the state.

But the issue is back at the centrestage of Punjab politics. So much so that the worried chief minister hurriedly called a special meeting of his cabinet on last Monday to address the issue and to signal its tough stance, the cabinet decided to recommend the death penalty for those convicted of supplying drugs, including first-time offenders.

The next day, the chief minister also made a dope test compulsory in recruitment and promotions of government employees. The worried government dismissed six policemen including one of the deputy superintendent of police rank, Daljit Singh Dhillon, who were linked to drug-related cases.

Senior superintendent of police (SSP) of Moga Raj Jit Singh, whose name allegedly cropped up in the investigation of a case by STF, was transferred .

The government again faced embarrassment on the issue when the new SSP of Moga, Kanwaljit Dhillon was also found to be facing a probe for letting off two policemen in a drug case when he was posted as SSP of the same district in 2013. Amarinder has sought a probe into Dhillon’s posting.

Be it opium, heroin or “chitta” (a white powder drug) and other chemical-based lifestyle drugs, the supply chain has not been broken in Punjab despite the Amarinder government’s crackdown, which has led to the arrest of 18,977 drug peddlers and treatment of more than 2,00,000 drug addicts. The men who control the racket are still out of reach of the government.

Aam Aadmi Party leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira accused the government of not doing anything concrete to control the spread of drugs; its drive against drugs has been limited to cosmetics steps, Khaira said.

“None of the so-called big fish in the drug trade have been arrested so far by the Amarinder government. The STF formed to fight drugs has not been provided a free hand, fearing that it may reach some senior police officials whose name has also cropped up in this illegal trade,” said Khaira.

There have been reports that due to a shortage in the supply of chitta because of the crackdown, some addicts have started directly injecting themselves with other chemicals, including a substance called ‘cut’, leading to the spurt in deaths. According to experts, ‘cut’ is an adulterated form of heroin which, if injected directly, can cause immediate death.

“Concoctions and mixture of substitutes for drugs by addicts is an extremely dangerous trend which was responsible for causing instant deaths in recent weeks. The government is cracking down on the use of mixtures,” Amarinder Singh told reporters in Chandigarh. The state government has announced a probe of all the drug-related deaths that occurred in June.

But is clearly lacking the exact cause of death. Punjab Health Minister, Brahm Mohindra has claimed that in June month only two deaths have been reported because of drug overdose. In rest of the cases, families never came forward to report if deaths were due to drugs over other ailments, he said.

“... the sudden rise in deaths was a sinister campaign against our government,” Punjab health minister, Brahm Mohindra said. “The crackdown by our government has choked the supply of drugs and our monthly OPD for de-addiction has increased by 29%. There are also unconfirmed reports of sub-standard heroin pushed in the market and we are trying to verify them,” he said.

First Published: Jul 08, 2018 08:38 IST