No one cures Punjab’s drug problem

From leading politicians to the CEC to the mini-parliament of Sikh religion, SGPC, everyone expresses concern about the growing menace of drug abuse in Punjab. But the cure doesn’t seem to be on their minds.

Chandigarh : From leading politicians to the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) to the mini-parliament of Sikh religion, Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee (SGPC), everyone expresses concern about the growing menace of drug abuse in Punjab. But the cure doesn’t seem to be on their minds.

The state, which is the food bowl of the country as it contributes over 60 percent of grains (wheat and paddy) to the national kitty, has a widespread problem of drugs, especially among youth and in rural areas.

In the last couple of months alone, security agencies in Punjab, which has a 553-km long international border with Pakistan, have recovered nearly 75 kg of heroin – a high-end drug – worth over Rs.350 crore ($70 million) in the international market.

In recent years, the seizure of heroin, which is smuggled mainly through the Afghanistan-Pakistan route, has been in hundreds of kilograms.

With just 1.5 percent of the country’s geographical area, the frontier state has now earned the dubious distinction of recovery of the highest volume of drugs in the country in recent years.

Last year, Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal made a sensational disclosure. Punjab alone has accounted for 60 percent – roughly Rs.900 crore – of the total drugs seizure worth Rs.1,500 crore in the country made in just six months (in 2010-11).

The concern for the drug problem also came from CEC S.Y. Quraishi in the run up to the Jan 30 assembly polls in the state.

“We have encountered the problem of liquor during elections in almost all states. But drug abuse is unique only to Punjab. This is really of concern,” Quraishi said here.

During the five weeks from announcement to holding of the assembly polls, various agencies recovered nearly 50 kg of heroin. Other recoveries included Rs.33.66 crore of unaccounted cash, 697,000 bottles of country liquor, nearly 32,000 litres of illicit liquor, 227,588 kg of ‘lahan’ (local liquor), 2,641 kg of poppy husk, 99 kg of opium, 952,697 tablets of intoxicating drugs, 88,296 capsules and 4,362 bottles of syrups.

Records of seizure of drugs by the Punjab police in the first seven months of 2010 showed the recovery of hundreds of kilograms of drugs of all types.

The recovery included 160 kg of heroin, valued at nearly Rs.8 billion (800 crore) in the international market, 50,000 kg of poppy husk, 455 kg of opium, 23 kg of smack, 800 gm of cocaine, 44.5 kg of charas, 351 kg of ganja, 148 kg of bhang, 11 kg of sulpha, over 700,000 tablets and capsules of intoxicating drugs, 160 kg synthetic powder, over 22,000 bottles of illegal liquor and nearly 26,000 injections.

A senior Punjab police officer, requesting anonymity, said drugs worth nearly Rs.3,000 crore could be transiting through or landing in Punjab.

The total drug seizure in the state in recent years is much higher with multiple agencies like the Border Security Force (BSF), the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, the customs department, the anti-narcotics cell of the Punjab police and others involved in the recovery process.

In 2009, the accumulated drug seizures by Punjab Police and other agencies included nearly 600 kg of heroin, 400 kg of hashish, 350 kg of marijuana, nearly 3,000 kg of opium and a whopping 373 tonnes of poppy husk.

An earlier study by researchers at Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, 250 km from here, estimated that “73.5 percent of Punjabi youth between 16 and 35 years are addicted to drugs.”

In 2008, Punjab Police seized over 200 kg of heroin from the state. The seizure by the state police in 2007 was 92 kg and in 2006 was 54 kg – clearly showing the growing drugs scenario in the state.

In an address on internal security in New Delhi last year, Sukhbir Badal asserted that the narco-terrorist threat was looming over Punjab. “Seizures and arrests by security agencies have shown links between narcotics smugglers and terrorists in some cases,” he said.

At various religious congregations and small functions at gurdwaras, one common issue highlighted by speakers is the growing drug menace. While the concern is expressed, no one really suggests the cure.

Photo by Youth Ki Awaaz

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