Poll-bound Punjab hits a high on booze and dope

Poll-bound Punjab hits a high on booze and dope

As if the taint of being among the states with the highest per-capita liquor consumption was not enough, Punjab has hit a new “high” during elections.

Officially, over 19,000 bottles of liquor are being seized daily in Punjab since the model code of conduct came into force. The number of bottles of liquor, including illicit liquor, confiscated during checking in various districts from early March till a couple of days ago has crossed 9.60 lakh.

Punjab’s Malwa region is high not just on liquor but dope too. Seizure of poppy husk, a drug known to have high levels of opiates and to induce high levels of intoxication, had crossed 16,090 kg till Friday, an indicator of heightened vigil, especially on the Rajasthan-Punjab border, from where poppy husk is smuggled into Punjab. But this has resulted in another serious problem.

Across Punjab, drug addicts are facing withdrawal symptoms as supply of poppy husk has dried up due to strict poll code enforcement during elections. The number of drug addicts reaching hospitals and de-addiction centres in the state has risen threefold in April. 

Non-availability of dope is unfortunately upsetting the health of youths and the elderly addicted to it. This week, drug addicts failing to get poppy husk went on a rampage, smashing vehicles in Punjab and parts of neighbouring Rajasthan. 

Poppy husk is sold freely in Rajasthan at about Rs 1,000 or more per kg, say sources.  At the de-addiction centre at Bathinda civil hospital, the number of walk-in addicts has gone up to 250 in April from less than 100 in March. The GTB Hospital in Ludhiana, officials reveal, is treating at least 200 patients every day; the figure was half in February. 

The OPD numbers at the Sangrur de-addiction centre have doubled in April. With just a day left for campaigning to end, observers feel seizures could increase even further. While Punjab will be a dry state for the next three days, vends in all adjoining states, including Rajasthan, within 3 km of the Punjab border will also remain shut until polling on April 30.

The developments bring to fore not only the rot that exists during poll time, but also the magnitude of the drug menace in Punjab. While the poll code has brought out the severity of the crisis, the availability of dope even on routine days leaves a lot to be answered. 

Unlike in Punjab and many other states, Rajasthan has licensed poppy fields. In 2012, in Rajasthan alone, close to 50,000 new licences were issued to farmers for cultivating poppy over a large area. The Narcotics Bureau is supposed to destroy excess produce for controlled usage.

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