Two years of Congress government in Punjab: Only half the drug battle won so far

Navjeevan Gopal
Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh's has claimed of having "broken the backbone" of the drug menace in the state.

"The Akali-Dal BJP combine had an attitude towards drug menace in the state that oscillated from being callous to being complicit. The Congress makes a total commitment that if people of Punjab give us a chance, then drug supply, distribution and consumption would be stopped within four weeks." Two years after Congress made this promise in its manifesto for the 2017 Punjab Vidhan Sabha elections, more than 50 per cent of villages, and wards in urban areas, continue to be in the grip of the drug menace in varying degrees.

And what flies in the face of Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh's claims of having "broken the backbone" of the drug menace in the state, is that as per statistics, till the end of December 2018, police could not file challans within the stipulated period in more than 2,100 drug cases. This resulted in a number of accused getting bail.

Districts hit by drugs

Data accessed by The Indian Express reveals that there are at least four districts out of 27 - these include police districts - which have less than ten per cent 'drug-free' villages and wards.

Also read | Two years of Congress government in Punjab: Captain Amarinder Singh still on the job

There are districts which claim to have a very high percentage of 'drug-free' villages and wards. For example, with all its 500 villages and wards categorised as 'drug free', Pathankot leads with the claim of being a '100 per cent drug-free' district. Pathankot Senior Superintendent of Police Vivek Sheel Soni justified the figure saying there was no village or ward in the district where the scale of the drug menace was "endemic".

The data has to be seen in that context, he added.

Of the total 846 villages and wards in Ferozepur district, only 25 (or 3 per cent) are 'drug-free', as per data. Sandeep Goyal, who joined as Ferozepur Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) last month, said, "We have stepped up the vigil. We will also take the percentage of drug-free villages to a higher level."

Of 621 villages and wards in Tarn Taran, 50 are 'drug-free', accounting for 8 per cent 'drug-free' villages and wards in the district, as per data. Tarn Taran SSP Kuldeep Singh Chahal said, "The data we have given is…authentic and going by that it is a big achievement."

Amritsar (Rural) has 46 'drug-free' villages and wards out of 854, which is 5.14 per cent. Similarly, out of 816 villages and wards, Batala police district has 50 villages (9.55 per cent) which are 'drug-free'.

Define 'drug-free'

An STF functionary said that a high percentage of drug-free villages and wards as claimed by several districts was "unrealistic". A senior government functionary said there was "ambiguity over the definition of a drug-free village" and the STF had been asked to come up with a clearcut definition of the same.

J Elanchezhian, SSP of Hoshiarpur district, which as per the data has no 'drug-free' village or ward out of total of 1,643, said, "There are drug-free villages and wards, but these have not been declared so officially."

Elanchezhian said the areas will be declared drug-free after a "common assessment" by different agencies, including police, civil administration, guardians of governance and others. Elanchezhian said any village or ward where there is no smuggling of drugs, where no one harbours smugglers and where everybody says no to drugs can be categorised as 'drug-free'.

Punjab's anti-drug Special Task Force (STF) chief, Additional Director General of Police Gurpreet Kaur Deo, when asked about drug-free villages and wards, said, "So far, we have not really made a detailed plan in this regard. At this point of time, we are battling the availability of drugs and limiting their supply. On drug-free village strategy, we are yet to think about it."

Challans not filed

Data pertaining to the status of challans in NDPS Act cases reveals that by the end of December 2018, Amritsar (Rural) had maximum cases where challans were not filed in the stipulated time in intermediate and big quantity drug cases. While Amritsar (rural) police failed to file challans in the stipulated time in 620 such cases, Bathinda and Hoshiarpur followed at 376 and 320 cases, respectively. From October 1 to December 31, 2018, in three months, 91 accused booked in intermediate and big quantity NDPS Act cases in Amritsar (rural) were granted bail by the courts, 75 accused in Hoshiarpur and 71 in Kapurthala were also granted bail in the said period in drug-related cases.

Deo attributed this to "investigation loopholes". "We are trying to reinforce that we have to do quality policing and ensure that whenever cases are registered, stipulated provisions of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, which otherwise are very technical and stringent, should be followed," she said.

Deo further said, "There is shortage of investigating officers (IOs) at the cutting edge. That is one thing we are projecting to the DGP and the government. We have also sent a proposal that head constables should be empowered to investigate cases of non-commercial quantities so there is no delay. The number of cases is very high, but number of IOs is relatively less."

As per data, till the end of December, challans were not filed in stipulated time in Ludhiana (rural) in 698 cases of small quantity NDPS Act cases, followed by Amritsar Commissionerate of Police (297 cases) and Amritsar (Rural) police (153 cases).

Heroin haul on a high

Data reveals that as compared to recovery of 36.85 kg of heroin between October 1 and December 31, 2017, 83.64 kg of heroin was recovered in the corresponding period in 2018.

"The reason there is an increase in recoveries is that there is an effort from the enforcement side. But then that means there is also an increase in demand," Deo said, adding that programmes like Buddy can be of tremendous help to wean youth from drugs. "But it is not an overnight phenomenon," she cautioned, adding that the programme will yield good results in the future.

"Under the buddy programme, 35 lakh students hold discussions in a regulated environment for half an hour per week on the menace of drugs."

STF is fighting drugs with a three-pronged strategy of Enforcement, Deaddiction and Prevention (EDP), Deo said. She said Outpatient Opioid Assisted Treatment (OOAT) clinics and Drug Abuse Prevention Officers (DAPOs) were also very useful in STF's fight against drugs. Deo said nearly 70,000 persons had registered in 174 OOAT clinics.

Deo said that the demand and supply of drugs had a socio-economic dimension as well.