Covid-19 lockdown dealt blow to Punjab drug smuggling: Official
The Covid-19 lockdown has dealt a major blow to drug smuggling in Punjab and more than 26,000 people have registered at de-addiction centres since curfew was imposed in the state to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, officials have said.
Additional director general of police Harpreet Singh Sidhu, who heads the anti-narcotics Special Task Force (STF), told Hindustan Times the surge in registrations at out-patient opioid assisted treatment (OOAT) centres across Punjab was because the supply chain of drug trafficking rings has been disrupted by the strict lockdown.
“The supply chain crunch has already been there and that is why we had over four lakh registrations at OOAT centres across Punjab since 2017. Lockdown has helped us further tighten the grip,” he added.
A total of 309 cases were registered by Punjab Police under the Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act and a large quantity of drugs have been seized, including 22 kg of heroin and more than 527 kg of poppy husk, since March 23, when the curfew was imposed.
A total of 498 people have also been arrested in connection with drug smuggling during the lockdown.
The anti-narcotics task force was set up after the Congress government, headed by Captain Amarinder Singh, came to power in April 2017. It was one of the key elements of the party’s manifesto.
Drug abuse, coupled with corruption, had dominated the 2017 assembly elections in the state, with the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) making it their main campaign plank against the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD).
The 26,000 fresh registrations at de-addiction centres include 2,375 in Ludhiana, 1,966 in Moga, 1,604 in Bathinda, 1,542 in SAS Nagar and 1,518 in Tarn Taran.
Sidhu said the total number of patients registered at OOAT centres in Punjab since 2017 stands at 440,165.
According to the report “Magnitude of Substance Abuse in India”, released in February 2019 by the Union social justice and empowerment ministry in collaboration with the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) of Delhi-based All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), there are 720,000 drug users in Punjab.
Sidhu described the increase in people registering at de-addiction centres as a “huge success” in the “war” against drugs in the border state.
Punjab shares a 553-km border with Pakistan and successive state governments have often talked about the neighbouring country’s involvement in narco-terrorism through several Indian states.
Chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh has been demanding a national drug policy to enable states to follow a similar approach and strategy to tackle this menace.
Interacting with the national media last week through video conference, Singh said Covid-19 has broken the supply chain of drug smuggling rings in his state.
“The only good thing that has come out of Covid-19 is that the supply of heroin and other drugs has been broken. We are happy. We already have a 1,000-personnel task force that has been continuously working on this front,” he said.
Sidhu agreed: “We had already managed to effectively block the supply chain and reduce the demand by the comprehensive action against drug abuse (CADA) strategy being implemented in Punjab through a three-pronged approach based on a balanced emphasis on enforcement, de-addiction and prevention (EDP). It is a reasonably good model.”
He added, “Covid-19 has done us an extra help in further tightening the supply line and prompted more people to approach drug de-addiction centres.”
He said this will have a positive follow-up effect, given that those whose supply chain has not been affected by the lockdown will be encouraged by hundreds of people thronging the de-addiction centres.
“They will see the benefits of the people who have gone into the treatment and also get influenced because we have seen that 85% of addiction happens through peer pressure,” Sidhu said.
The state government has also launched mobile OOAT vans to provide treatment and consultation to addicts at their doorsteps to ensure strict social distancing norms.
Asked about the challenges faced by the STF in ensuring the supply chain remains disrupted even after the lockdown, Sidhu said: “It is possible some supply will come once the lockdown is lifted. But with so many people registering with de-addiction centres, they have come onto our radar and if they drop out of the programme we will be able to trace them and persuade them to come back.”
He added that police have also made inroads in areas where supply could not be contained earlier.
Sidhu described the de-addiction centres as major life savers. “Imagine if such centres wouldn’t have been there during this lockdown period, lack of supply and withdrawal could have had disastrous consequences and possibly a rise in suicide bids,” he said.
“I always say we had nothing when we started in 2017, then we had some strategy in 2018, and in 2020, we are constantly adapting to the situation. All our models are flexible and we are making them better as we go on. If we further increase our momentum, we should be out of this menace by next year and hopefully have good results,” Sidhu remarked.