Punjab’s Drug War : Resurrecting India’s First Line of Defense for Narcotics…. Part 2

It is the hardest to develop a consistent narrative when there are so many moving pieces

Resurrecting India’s First Line of Defense for Narcotics
Resurrecting India’s First Line of Defense for Narcotics

Part 1 of this series can be ‘accessed ‘ here. This is Part 2.

It has been one year since Capt. Singh lead Congress government took office in Punjab. CM Capt. Singh did inherit a mammoth public health challenge on March 16, 2017, which he had promised to mitigate within four weeks of being elected. Since that promise is far from being kept, the Congress finds itself in a major violation of BJP’s copyright on jumla. But let’s face it, this crisis is seriously convoluted. It is the hardest to develop a consistent narrative when there are so many moving pieces. Experts around the world who have studied drug crises for decades, continue to be divorced in their viewpoints. Their difference of opinion on finding a solution is chasmal.

That brings us to the next challenge – we must not only devise a strategy to prevent clean individuals from becoming addicts, we must also have a plan to rehabilitate the ones who already are addicts

A classic debate for the crisis tries to establish a cause and effect relationship between access and consumption. Does increased access to narcotics truly cause a rise in demand and consumption? If that were true, then states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana would have a crisis worse than that of Punjab. Also, presumably, there must be a greater access to narcotics in Pakistan. Are they facing a similar crisis? If one thinks holistically, access alone is not the cause of the problem.

There are some experts who believe that the drug crisis is not a supply problem at all. They believe that clamping down on supply lines will not curtail the demand, but will rather end up increasing the market price of the drugs. In fact, the absence of adequate supply of narcotics, in a massive and mature market like Punjab’s, will force the addicts to rely on and resort to local, synthetic, more harmful, and cheaper alternatives. This, in turn, may increase the number of fatal overdose cases.

Secondly, with the demand staying constant and the prices rising, a new indigenous supply line may get created where an addict (consumer) also ends up becoming a part of the supply chain as a drug in-trader or peddler. That way, these addicts can not only afford the drugs but they also make a few bucks by supplying them to others. These indigenous dual-eligibles (addicts + in-traders) when caught, typically end up becoming the most difficult to deal with. They get sympathy from the Left for being citizens who are addicts, and wrath from the Right for being criminals. It leads to a tediously unending debate as to whether the dual-eligibles should spend time in a jail or in a rehabilitation centre.

That brings us to the next challenge – we must not only devise a strategy to prevent clean individuals from becoming addicts, we must also have a plan to rehabilitate the ones who already are addicts. In the recent past, community centres, psychiatric facilities, rehabilitative and semi-rehabilitative centres, etc. have cropped up in various parts of Punjab faster than their backyard weeds. Funding will remain an obvious challenge for rehabilitation. And good rehabilitation programs typically last for years, sometimes decades. The abbreviated versions of rehabilitation programs, while cheaper, are less effective, and sometimes even worse. They mostly rely on alternative substances which they “claim” are less harmful than, say, heroin. But the alternatives never solve the dependency issue that the addicts develop with these drugs.

CM Capt. Singh has certainly shown reasonable intent to not only take bold punitive measures but also to establish an environment where rehabilitation of addicts is possible. He formulated a Special Task Force (STF) whose primary focus is to obliterate the miscreants and seize narcotics wherever possible. Reportedly, the STF is also working closely with Union Home Ministry’s Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and with the police of neighbouring states to gather intelligence on the drug mafias. The Home Ministry recently announced that the ‘Assistance to States and UTs for Narcotics Control’ scheme has been extended to 2020, with an estimated budget of INR 21 crores. The government of Punjab also plans on setting up Outpatient Opioid Assisted Treatment (OOAT) centres across the state.

One of the biggest criticisms of Capt. Singh is that he was able to catch the smaller drug peddlers, while the bigger drug lords still haven’t been brought to justice

His efforts have resulted in large-scale raids on drug manufacturing facilities, cultivation fields, and warehouses. Important legislation like the ‘Punjab Forfeiture of Illegally Acquired Property Act (2017)’ was passed in order to bolster law enforcement and also to buttress existing laws like ‘Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (1985)’. The STF (with help of NCB and others) were able to seize copious amounts illegal drugs worth crores of INR, and correspondingly thousands of arrests have been made. The BSF seized 344.5 kg of narcotics in 2015, 222.98 kg in 2016, 163.52 kg till Oct 10, 2017, along the International Border. Capt. Singh’s government also succeeded in framing charges against dozens of police officers who offered connivance to the drug mafias, following which efficient and upright officers were elevated. Special emphasis was given to the most affected regions like Tarn Taran, which is located very close to Pakistan.

Paving the way towards a solution:

Despite all efforts, the drug crisis in Punjab is far from over. One of the biggest criticisms of Capt. Singh is that he was able to catch the smaller drug peddlers, while the bigger drug lords still haven’t been brought to justice. Also, a lot of these drug mafias have well established international networks and enjoy a lot of wherewithal. Dealing with them would entail the creation of a larger law enforcement and intelligence nexus having meaningful purview across the country. Other states in the northeast are facing similar drug crises where bold punitive measures and large-scale social awareness programs have helped alleviate the situation – something that Punjabis have resisted thus far. Also, all states must be prepared to adopt a bimodal approach where on one hand the state provides long-term non-pharmaceutical rehabilitation programs, and on the other, the state manages to show some spine when dealing with criminals. If social proscription works as a deterrent for women from indulging in drugs, it will also work for men.

And most importantly, India will become the next United States in the drug crisis if we entertain calls from the Left for: 1) Allowing unregulated opioid prescriptions for pain management 2) Legalizing the recreational use of narcotics and narcotic-like substances. We must guard against them both, lest we shall be perennially enmeshed in the crisis.

 

 References :

Rishikesh C. Muchhala

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