Captain calls for death penalty for drug peddlers. But will that solve the problem?
The menace of drugs has come back to the centre-stage in Punjab and the Congress government led by Captain Amarinder Singh is facing the heat. More than 20 reported deaths on account of drug overdose, women coming out in public accusing cops of putting them on drugs and statewide public protests point to the severity of the problem.
It is in these circumstances that Amarinder held a special meeting of his cabinet and came out tweeting, “My govt has decided to recommend the death penalty for drug peddling/smuggling. The recommendation is being forwarded to the Union government. Since drug peddling is destroying entire generations, it deserves exemplary punishment. I stand by my commitment for a drug free Punjab.”
The moot question remains how the state will become drug free even if there is a death penalty for peddlers. It is the same government that had set up a Special Task Force (STF) after assuming power. It has been complaining of major strides in the fight against drugs but the fact remains that the narcotics and synthetic drugs continue to be available and drug abuse remains rampant. Ask the people in the villages about the availability of drugs and they are quick to say that nothing much has changed with the change of regime a year and a half ago. The politician-police-smuggler nexus continues to exist. On the other hand the efforts at rehabilitation of addicts continues to remain a big challenge.
According to a government spokesperson the formal recommendation on death penalty for drug peddlers and smugglers will be sent soon to the union government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The cabinet also decided to constitute a special working group under Additional Chief Secretary (ACS) (Home) NS Kalsi to review and monitor, on a day-to-day basis, the action being taken to check and control drug abuse. The other members of the group will include ACS (Health) Satish Chandra, Director General of Police (DGP) (Law & Order) Ishwar Singh, DGP (Intelligence) Dinkar Gupta and ADGP (STF) HS Sidhu as members.
A cabinet sub-committee has also been formed under the chief minister, with the special working group mandated to report directly to it. It will have health and family welfare minister along with social security minister as appointed Members of the sub-committee which will meet once a week to take stock of the situation and review the progress of the anti-drug campaign.
Amarinder has ordered DGP Suresh Arora to intensify the police crackdown asking him to go all out against drug smugglers and peddlers, making it clear that no complacency on the issue would be tolerated.
The cabinet took stock of the cases of deaths resulting from drug overdose, which STF chief HS Sidhu admitted to be a matter of concern. He suggested registration of all such cases to enable the identification and mitigation of risk factors, such as supply of spurious drugs and mixing of drugs with other death-causing substances.
Kalsi emphasised the need to work out a holistic strategy with the involvement of the enforcement wing and the drug de-addiction and rehabilitation centres to achieve the desired results. He asked the DGP to review the drug scenario across the state with Senior Superintendents of Police (SSPs)on a fortnightly basis suggesting that delinquent SSPs found not performing up to the mark should be taken to task and adverse remarks should be penned in their Annual Confidential Reports (ACRs).
Citing data relating to arrests and seizures under the NDPS Act, DGP Suresh Arora pointed that there has been a sharp increase in the figures since the Amarinder government took over. He claimed the seizure of heroin has gradually declined over a period of time, underling the effectiveness of the action undertaken by police, STF and various central agencies along with additional Border Security Force (BSF) deployment and upgradation of surveillance technology along with other infrastructure at the border. He said that it is was possible that the resultant shortage of drugs is forcing addicts to resort to consumption of adulterated drugs, which could be leading to deaths.
Health Minister Brahm Mohindra informed that 81 Patient Opioid Assisted Treatment (OOAT) centres are currently functioning effectively in the state and so far, 8000 youth have been successfully treated at these centres.
Culture minister Navjot Singh Sidhu expressed concern at the public perception that the government has not succeeded in eliminating the drug menace.
Pointing that NDPS Act is a very sensitive and specialised legislation, Advocate General Atul Nanda mooted the creation of a special cadre of at least 15 well-trained prosecutors to secure conviction of drug offenders in an effective manner, as a corrective measure.
Meanwhile, the Shiromani Akali Dal came out saying that the time has come for a comprehensive war on drugs by all Punjabis rising above political affiliations to fight a common enemy Now, this is a party that till the last assembly polls was in complete denial of the menace and was taking a position that Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his avatar as Gujarat Chief Minister was taking after the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom saying that these allegations are made to defame the state.
But still, the SAD has shown wisdom in calling for a common fight. “This is no time for playing politics and the SAD will not fall to the temptation to take political advantage out of the government’s total failure to live up to its promise to tackle the drug menace in four weeks. As a responsible political party committed to the goals and ideals laid down before us by the great Gurus, the SAD is fully alive to its sacred responsibility to serve the people of Punjab constructively. We will discharge this responsibility most conscientiously to save our youth from the specter of drugs, ” said the party president and former deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.
However, he did not lose the opportunity of scoring some brownie points when he said that just before and during the last elections, some political parties in Punjab had thought it fit to take political mileage out of the drug issue. “Instead of pooling their energies and efforts in the war on drugs launched by Parkash Singh Badal’s government, our opponents launched a vicious vilification campaign against Punjab itself, painting 70 per cent of the youth of the state as 'drug addicts'. This was done merely to show he government in poor light.”
Sukhbir said that he would also appeal to the Shiromani Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) to launch a massive religious drive against the drug menace in the light of the teachings of the sacred Gurbani.
Former DGP Shashikant Sharma who was among the first to expose the politician-drug mafia nexus in Punjab more than a decade ago while calling the cabinet decision on death penalty to peddlers and smugglers ins a “great decision”, has raised certain pertinent questions. “The Centre will have to amend the law and it will have to be applicable for entire country. So it is a political question now. The main question is who is going to arrest drug lords? None of the drug lords have been arrested till now. The laws are strong and even the users can be arrested.”
At the same time he is skeptical of the move questioning whether it might amount to brushing the issue under the carpet. “The soccer season is on and it would be kicking the ball from one half of the field to the other,” he told Catch.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Lok Insaf Party (LIP) have been going hammer and tongs on the issue. They have been highlighting the role of senior police officers in putting people on to the drugs. Reacting to the cabinet decision, Leader of the Opposition Sukhpal Singh Khaira tweeted,“Whenever governments want to push burning issues under the carpet, they form commissions, committees and make recommendations, that’s exactly what Captain has done today. Instead of firmly acting against police officers hand in glove with drug mafia, he’s asking for new laws from the government of India.”
He also raised the issue of no action against cops involved in drug peddling.
The party held a protest in Chandigarh where its leaders accused Amarinder of trying to save Akali leaders involved in drug menace. They demanded a special Assembly session on the issue and sought a time bound CBI probe into the matter.