Rahul was right: Drug abuse among Punjab youth 'a human crisis'

The border village of Maqboolpura in Punjab is a shrill reminder of the generations lost to drug abuse. Lost somewhere between political rhetoric and overtones of facts and gaffe, surrounding Rahul Gandhi’s ‘7-out-of-10-youth-drug-addicts-in-Punjab’ comment, is 55-year old Prabjot Kaur of the village. She’s lost her husband, son and brother to drugs.

Kaur fears her daughter’s life too could grieve like hers after marriage to the vices of drug abuse. The village has an estimated 400 widows and 900 orphan kids who’ve lived with the torment of losing a loved one to drug abuse. So is Punjab fast etching its own expiry date?

Ask Maqboolpura based philanthropist Ajit Singh, and he says its disastrous to view the magnitude of the problem in the light of  facts and figures of drug abuse alone. Ajit Singh runs a small school in the village near vicinity with 300 such orphan children. Ironically, despite the escalating drug problem in this border state, no government has ever got a survey done on its own to address the spiralling malaise.

There’s more that explains why it’s time to press the panic button in Punjab. Village Daulewala in Moga district of Punjab presents a shocker. The village has about 400 families and cases of drug paddling have been registered on nearly 385 persons.  Seventy of them are women.

An entire platoon of Congress leaders, both in Punjab and New Delhi, was grappling to find space to be the first among the first to defend the Gandhi scion, come-what-may, post the controversy over remarks during his visit to the state capital Chandigarh recently. Denials apart, a Punjab government affidavit filed in the Punjab and Haryana high court in 2009, when the incumbent SAD-BJP regime was midway in its first term in office, had in fact stated that the whole state of Punjab was in “the grip of drug hurricane and approximately 7 out of 10 college going students abuse one or the other drug.”
Punjab deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal says the figures are ‘distorted’ and Rahul has insulted the 52 per cent of the youth population in Punjab by painting all of them with a black brush.

In Golden Crescent

There is abundant merit when chief minister Parkash Singh Badal talks about the complexities of drug trafficking and abuse in agrarian Punjab which shares 550-km international border with Pakistan. Drug recoveries in Punjab in the last five years are at least 50 per cent of the total national recoveries. Out of the 836 kg of high priced heroine seized in 2010 in the country, a major chunk of 222 kg of heroine was seized from Punjab alone.

The Punjab border with Pakistan is manned by the BSF and chief minister Badal strongly maintains it’s the Central agencies that need to curb flow of drugs into Punjab, more so because it falls in the international drug trafficking zone called the ‘Golden Crescent’  and is a major transit and destination point for drugs coming from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Off course, it’s big bucks. This year alone with a few months still left, 509 kg of heroine estimated to be worth Rs 5,000 crore in international market, has been seized by Punjab police and the Central agencies.  

Political parties in Punjab may argue at length defending one or the other leader, but that the magnitude of the drug problem is grave and spiralling fast and furious is irrefutable. Even the State Disaster Management Plan states that “some 73.5 per cent of the state’s youth between 16 and 35 years are affected by drugs.”  The plan document also quotes Raj Pal Meena, the then head of the state's Anti-Narcotics Task Force (ANTF) saying, “Punjab is teetering on the edge of an extraordinary human crisis, with an inordinately large number of youngsters hooked on to marijuana, opium and heroin, in addition to imbibing a range of prescriptive tablets.”

The drug menace in Punjab is more complex to deal with. Here’s why.  Punjab’s neighbouring state of Rajesthan has licensed poppy fields. In 2012, in Rajasthan alone, 48,857 new licenses were issued to farmers for cultivating a huge area for puppy.
Leakages to Punjab are inevitable. The Narcotics Bureau is supposed to destroy any excess produce for controlled usage, but leakages into Punjab have continued for some time now as dried poppy husk and extracts fetch much more than the average Rs 800 per kg that producers in Rajesthan get. The limited paraphernalia with the Punjab government is insufficient to manage the escalating menace of drugs. The state has just one 10-bed de-addiction centre per district, two anti-narcotic monitoring cells and only 12 anti-narcotics officers in 21 districts.

Sensing the magnitude if the problem, the Punjab government has decided to introduce a subject-session on drug and de-addiction in school curriculum to sensitise growing children. A 14-point agenda has directed all district education officers to ask head teachers in government schools to discuss about drug and de-addiction in the morning assembly and other sessions.

What may have some psychological impact on the minds of drug affected youth is a study that a Congress leader Jagmeet Singh Brar has made public. Brar claims that the virility of men from Punjab has gone down drastically due to drug abuse and alcoholism. He has cited data compiled by a World Health Organisation committee which brought to the fore the findings that “the sperm count of men in Punjab has drastically gone down, thanks to drug abuse, alcoholism.” The senior Congress leader who said the ‘big, macho Punjabi male’ was fast losing his vigour, claimed that the medical superintendent and head of department of pathology at the Dayananad Medical College, Ludhiana had confirmed the findings.

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