De-addiction, not death penalty for peddlers, is the best solution to Punjab’s drug problem
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De-addiction, not death penalty for peddlers, is the best solution to Punjab’s drug problem

Although the widespread addiction needs to be controlled with strong measures, existing provisions are enough to deter those dealing in drugs, argue those against the death penalty

editorials Updated: Jul 05, 2018 16:42 IST
Hindustan Times
In the last two months, the state saw as many as 30 deaths owing to overdose of drugs, with 23 deaths in June alone(Hindustan Times)

On Monday, the Punjab cabinet decided to recommend death penalty for drug peddlers in the state. The Congress government has suggested that the Centre amend the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) so that those dealing in drugs are given the death sentence in the first instance of their conviction, and not in the second, as the law stands now. Political observers say the government was under enormous pressure to deliver on its election promise of tackling the drug menace in Punjab. It is not that there has been no action. Since chief minister Amarinder Singh took over, the government has been cracking down on offenders, with 18,800 arrests made between March 16, 2017, and June 24, 2018, and 377 kg of heroine seized in the same period, according to Punjab Police statistics. Still, the number of victims of drug-related crime is on the rise. In the past two months, the state saw as many as 30 deaths from drug overdoses, with 23 in June alone. The ‘Punjab Opioid Dependence Survey’ released by the state government in 2016 revealed there were 2.3 lakh opioid-dependent people in Punjab, of whom 76% were between 18 and 35 years old. According to the study, heroin was the most widely used opoid. Significantly, the report highlighted a gap in the availability of treatment services for drug-dependent individuals. While 80% of these tried to give up, only about 35% got any help.This is where the government’s focus needs to be sharpened.

The death penalty is not the solution. It has been abolished in most progressive societies and is reserved for the rarest of rare crimes. Section 31A, NDPS Act, 1985, already has a provision of death penalty for subsequent conviction under law. First incorporated in the statute in 1989, Section 31A was amended in 2014, making it optional for the judge to award the death sentence.

Over the years, the state’s efficacy in dealing with drug dealers appears to be increasing. According to NCRB statistics, the conviction rate of those booked under the NDPS in Punjab has grown from 21.5% in 2001 to 81.1% in 2016. Therefore, the call for death penalty for drug peddlers may have been triggered by electoral compulsions. What the government should focus on instead is to strengthen the infrastructure in the network of de-addiction centres across the state, raise awareness about the hazards of drug use and, at the same time, tighten the law and order situation in the state, since drug peddlers seldom flourish without the police’s collusion.

First Published: Jul 05, 2018 16:35 IST