Some time ago, the SAD-BJP government in Punjab carried out doping tests on Punjab Police aspirants. And though it was a measure brought about by political compulsions, the government seems to have set the right precedent.
The Substance Abuse Test (SAT), to which the aspirants were subjected, gave ammunition to the Akalis ahead of the forthcoming Assembly polls to debunk the allegations from the Opposition Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party of high drug abuse prevalent among the youth in the state.
A screening test at the entry level in the police force is an appreciable measure - after all, if there is a high rate of drug addiction among the youth, how can the police remain isolated from the phenomenon?
Police authorities in the state are right now trying to analyse the data related to the youth who failed the SAT. This analysis will surely help them in the days to come in tackling the drug menace.
More than 3.75 lakh candidates, mostly clean
Between July and September, as per a sop announced by the state government, 7,416 constables were recruited into the force. Over 3.75 lakh candidates appeared for the test.
And, as per one of the largest ever official samples on the drug menace in Punjab, the government now claims that the allegations of the drug problem are "wild, reckless and utterly irresponsible".
The chairman of the Central Recruitment Board, Additional Director General pf Police (ADGP) Iqbal Preet Singh Sahota, disclosed that 98% of the candidates cleared the SAT. He said a mere 1.3% of the applicants tested positive for drug abuse, which exposes as false the allegations that 70-80% of Punjabi youth were drug addicts. Some 0.65% of the applicants tested positive for performance enhancing drugs.
Sahota claimed that a large number of those who failed were found to have taken amphetamine, a performance enhancing medical drug, which traditionally does not fall in the category of the 'drugs' which are believed to be serious or even life threatening in nature.
"Candidates found to have been under the influence of amphetamine, a performance enhancing drug, are permitted by the authorities to reappear in the recruitment test after a gap of seven days," he said.
However, while the government waves these figures in the face of all its detractors, the Opposition continues to accuse the government of remaining in denial.
What were the failures having?
Authorities are now studying the data regarding candidates who had failed the dope test. There are reports that 1,775 out of the 6,558 aspirants who failed the test had used marijuana. The other drugs used by the failed applicants include benzodiazepine and morphine (1,238 candidates). Reports say that samples of 388 candidates were found to have traces of multiple drugs, including heroin and opium.
Most of the aspirants who failed the test were from Fazilka and Patiala. A few days ago, a majority of those who had tested positive were given a chance to reappear in the tests, and most of them tested negative.
The acceptance of opium and poppy husk
Experts said the state could not afford to have anyone taking drugs on the police force. Former Director General of Police (DGP) SS Virk said: "We had this in mind right from the time when militancy ended in the state. Hence, a strategy had been drawn to crack down on the big drug dealers, and around a dozen of them were put behind bars between 2005 to 2007. The emphasis was on prevention. Police personnel knew that they had to chase drug peddlers, and could not afford to be on the wrong side themselves."
However, to some extent, Virk agreed with other sources that opium and poppy husk consumption, even among the cops, was nothing new, and had had social acceptance for a long time. There have been no instances of cops using synthetic drugs.
Sources said there were instances of police personnel taking opium and poppy husk regularly in certain areas, but even that was falling after the rates of these products shot up when their delivery from Rajasthan was curtailed.
In 2014, there were a couple of media reports about the police department carrying out a drug de-addiction drive for its staff. The reports pointed to around 15 police personnel having joined a 10-day de-addiction camp at Muktsar, and the drive being on in some other districts.
But the officials quoted in these reports at the time pleaded ignorance when contacted by Catch.
The reports said the cops got addicted mainly to poppy husk and opium after pilfering the recoveries made during raids. They initially tried them out of curiosity.
Experts hail the move
While there have been no academic studies on possible drug abuse among cops, former DGP Shashikant claims the police had got internal studies done in 2009-10. "There were police personnel found to be suffering from diseases caused by the use of drugs, about their being lethargic etc. Some of the police personnel were found to be taking low quality smack, poppy husk and pharmaceutical drugs," he told Catch.
He agreed that the government's initiative to subject police recruits to doping tests was a good step, provided it were done with complete sincerity and transparency. He added that maximum emphasis needed to be put on the proper collection of samples, with instruments of appropriate calibration.
Dr Rajwant Singh from Punjabi University in Patiala also approved of the initiative,and suggested that such tests should be carried out on the police personnel regularly, maybe every five years.
"After all, if a common man can be subjected to random tests to see if he is driving in an inebriated state, the same can be done on police personnel as well," he said.
He also pointed out that regular tests on the police personnel would be helpful, because they are never subject to any medical tests once they are recruited.
Edited by Shreyas Sharma
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