HT Investigation: For families of ‘addicts’, CCTVs new weapon in Punjab’s war on drugs
It is not only the addicts who are making a "concoction" of drugs in Punjab. It is also the cops — in the first information reports (FIRs). The four-week deadline to "eradicate drugs" given by chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh government is over.
At least in the numbers game, the Congress government has beaten its predecessor. The police has arrested 2,205 persons in just a month-and-half of the anti-drug crackdown, an average of 51 a day (between March 16 and April 27). It is higher than the average of the SAD-BJP government, which had launched a similar crackdown after the poor show in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. A total of 17,068 arrests were made in 2014, averaging to 46 a day and 11,593 in 2015, which added up to 31 a day.
But the numbers belie the claims of the CM. "I have asked the police not to go after the kids (addicts) but catch the big fish," Amarinder had declared after his government took over on March 16 and in the first cabinet meeting, a special task force (STF) was set up to "wipe out" the drug menace.
Investigations by HT revealed how the police may be making the numbers. Rakba and Jangpur, the two villages of Ludhiana's Mullanpur Dakha, are paying the price for being notorious as a haven for drug couriers and addicts. One of the houses on the Raikot road that intersects the two villages, proudly declares the name of the owner as that of freedom fighter Charan Singh.
But the memory has now faded in the new distinction, says his son, Comrade Harbans Singh. "My father fought the British and stayed in jail. On March 25, the cops came home and arrested my nephew Hardeep Singh (alias Dipu) on charges of drug peddling," he says. 28-year-old Hardeep's mother Surinder Kaur, a teacher in a government school, shows the prescription of Guru Nanak Dev Hospital in Mullanpur to claim her son was undergoing de-addiction treatment. "Dipu was in Australia for some years. After he returned, he was jobless here. He used the money he earned there on chitta (a colloquial for heroin). He was at home when the cops arrested him early morning," she says.
Neither the freedom fighter tag nor the prescription proved to be of any help. But the CCTV camera of a school, Eastwood International, that faces the front of the house is now the weapon for the family as it fights for their son's release. The CCTV footage shows cops arriving at 7.52 am and taking Dipu away at 8am on March 25 from his home. But the FIR (no 0061, dated 25.3.2017) registered by the Dakha police station is the routine "cut and paste" job in a NDPS case. It reads, "Hardeep Singh was arrested at a police naka near Dana Mandi at 3 pm. On seeing the police, he turned and the ASI stopped him on grounds of suspicion. He gave him the option of getting a gazetted officer or magistrate to the spot but Hardeep reposed full faith in the police. The ASI tried to make one of the passers-by a witness, but they refused to earn the enmity of a "smuggler". During search, 100 grams nasheela powder was recovered from his pocket."
Luckily for Hardeep, his cousin is employed at the Eastwood School and the CCTV footage has been submitted by their lawyer in the court. In nearby Jangpur village, the father of Gurdeep Singh alias Gopi regrets not heeding to the advice of installing CCTV cameras.
The walls of Gopi's home are painted in camouflage green. It is his father, Hardeep Singh's connect to his past — he retired as hawildar from the Indian Army. The father admits his son did drugs. "I was a boxer in the Army. But my son fell into bad company and started taking heroin. I wanted to send him away. He went to a rehab after de-addiction and has not taken any "chitta" for last three months. But the police came early morning, made him wear his pants and took him away. His friend, Ravinder, was also at home. We all told them to show recovery of the drug. Many people in the village have CCTV cameras. I wish we too had installed them," he says.
In Gopi's case, the FIR (no 0095, dated 25.4.2017) shows arrest by a police party at 6.30 pm near Mullanpur cinema hall. "He started walking fast and hid behind the wall of the cinema hall after seeing the police party. He was stopped and given the option to call a gazetted officer of a magistrate but he reposed trust in the police. From his pocket, 40 grams of psychotropic "nasheela powder" was recovered...."
Like Dipu and Gopi, Mullanpur village has the story of Simru. A neighbour informs us he is back from the jail. It is after persistent knocking at the two huge gates of his double-storeyed home that Simranjit Singh alias Simru finally comes out and agrees to talk. "I am back on a term bail as the quantity mentioned in the FIR was 10 grams of "nasheela powder". The bail is till report of the forensic lab comes, which takes three to four months. I took opium earlier but left it after my marriage in 2012. I have a three-year-old daughter now. When I told the judge that I was caught from home, he told me I should have installed CCTV cameras at my home," 26-year-old Simranjit said.
His mother, Harpreet Kaur, says the police came early morning. "The cops scaled the walls of our home as if my son was a criminal. The whole village saw it. We cannot move out in the village now," she said.
The area of Mullanpur Dakha falls under Jagraon SSP Surjit Singh who said he will verify the complaints. "In Jangpur village, at least 17 addicts have died in the last three years. The police is trying to send a strong message against drug abuse. We are trying to catch dealers not addicts as some of them even die in jails due to withdrawal symptoms," he said.
ADGP Harpreet Sidhu, the man Amarinder has tasked with the job as the head of the special task force, said, "We have very clearly told the police to file only genuine cases. We have asked IG, Jalandhar, to look into the complaints."
(Part 2: Booming business of pvt rehab centres: By past addicts, for present ones)