'Cut the supply lines, arrest the drug lords'

'Cut the supply lines, arrest the drug lords'

'Cut the supply lines, arrest the drug lords'

Whether Punjab lives in a state of denial or otherwise, drug menace is consuming lives. The state needs a durable solution and Punjab former DGP (Prisons) Shashi Kant, who has investigated as well as deeply studied the issue both as an officer and an activist, has kept the focus alive on stemming the rot.

In an interview to Deccan Herald’s Gautam Dheer, he spoke of the political patronage to the drug mafia and the way forward. Excerpts:

How serious is the drug problem in Punjab? Has it been blown out of proportion?

Drug is a major problem. But there is no credible data to ascertain the real extent of the problem. Surveys that have been conducted are incomprehensive, often limited to a small sample size and particular areas. My sense is that reports have been scaled down. Even the latest AIIMS survey data appears fudged since there was no documentary backup. Nevertheless, several reports point towards high drug abuse, especially among the youth. After 14 years, the Centre has now ordered a comprehensive survey, which may take two to three years.  

Is there political patronage to drug trade?

Of course there is. It’s a deep rooted nexus. And it’s not that individuals of any one particular party are involved, it’s across political parties, which makes it murkier. The big fish goes scot free all the time. My report as intelligence chief on drugs in Punjab names drug lords, politicians, police officers and people across the spectrum who in one way or the other are linked to the narcotics trade. Without political and police patronage, the trade can neither exist nor flourish. There is a need to break this nexus, without which the issue will not be addressed.      

Is drug trade, the nexus and the entire ambit of drugs a new phenomenon in Punjab?
No, it’s not new. It’s been there since decades starting perhaps from the mid-1980s. Though it’s not something that has cropped up during the incumbent rule of the SAD-BJP combine, there has been in the last 10 years a tremendous increase in drug menace in the state. Besides traditional drugs, “synthetic drugs and designer drugs” have aggravated the menace.

Is the problem home grown or a failure of the border force to check infiltration from Pakistan and Afghanistan and beyond?

High priced drugs are smuggled from across the border to Punjab and other states. It’s the notorious golden triangle route. But there are synthetic drugs, pharmaceutical drugs and some other drugs that are sold without fear under trademark signs and numbers. The riverine belt close to the Punjab border with Pakistan is vulnerable, just as the border fence from where Pakistan smugglers have often passed on drugs in plastic pipes etc to their accomplices in Punjab. Then there are other cocktail medicines–5 number ki Goli, Chand goli (5 number tablet, moon tablet).  There is a clear possibility that these have roots in Punjab and the neighbouring states. The Punjab and Haryana High Court is hearing the matter in a PIL filed by me. On the directions of the high court, I have written to the CBI and other agencies to widen the scope of the probe.

Has the SAD-BJP government done enough to tackle the problem?

I don’t trust this government. No supply lines appear to have been broken. Many of those arrested for various offences are petty peddlers, addicts etc. Drug lords still escape the law. Unless they are punished by the law, supply lines cannot be dismantled. Even the Punjab and Haryana High Court has asked the government to come up with details of major drug peddlers arrested by them.

What is the way forward?

A multi-pronged approach needs to be followed. A collective effort is needed. Foremost is to cut supply lines. The big fish–the drug lords–need to be arrested. The nexus between the politicians, police, BSF and customs has to be broken and the accused brought to book. There’s a dire need to strengthen de-addiction centres. A sustainable re-settlement plan for drug addicts needs to be in place. The affected youth need to be roped into sports activities. I have also suggested that the Union government categorise drug addiction as an illness, which will bring in international cooperation and expertise.
That the problem of drugs is limited to only Punjab appears farfetched.

The PIL in the Punjab and Haryana High Court is addressing the issue concerning the two states and the Union Territory of Chandigarh. Last week, I filed a PIL in the Supreme Court highlighting the extent of the menace across several other states, some of which are living in denial. Down south, Bengaluru is turning into a hub for drugs like cocaine. An NGO moved the Rajasthan High Court which eventually passed a judgment banning sale of poppy husk in the state in a regulated manner.

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