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High hopes: Punjab's Swaraj Party wants to decriminalise opium & cannabis

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 2 July 2016, 19:37 IST
The party
  • The Swaraj Party was formed about a month ago in Punjab
  • The party has now come out with a road map for next year\'s Assembly polls
The road map
  • The party wants to decriminalise opium and cannabis
  • It also wants the government to take over the liquor retail business in the state
More in the story
  • What party leader Prof. Manjit Singh says about the controversial issue of drugs in Punjab
  • The party\'s stand on other issues like the agrarian crisis and sharing river waters

Almost a month after its inception in Punjab, the Swaraj Party has come out with its road map for the poll-bound state. The party leadership has spelt out its social, economic and political programme on poll-related issues.

The most interesting take is on fighting the drug menace in the state. The Swaraj Party has advocated decriminalisation of organic drugs, such as poppy husk, opium and cannabis, by bringing out a suitable amendment in the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985.

Party president Prof. Manjit Singh says: "When organic drugs were brought under the purview of the act, their rates increased enormously in the black market. This led the people towards the consumption of synthetic drugs, that were relatively cheaper.

"Look at the case of dry states. It is the mafia that has grown there while liquor is available. The revenue that could have gone into the state coffers is going to the mafia. Gujarat is an example of this phenomenon."

In fact, some experts from various fields, along with politicians have successfully started a debate on the issue of decriminalising organic drugs to deal with the prevailing menace in the state.

This initiative comes at a time when the SAD-BJP state government has been trying to take cover for its failure by saying that since there are more drug seizures in Punjab, the state has become a target for defamation.

Also read- How the Badals got themselves into a fix over Udta Punjab

The arguments in favour

Those in favour of decriminalising organic drugs reportedly include noted economist Dr SS Johal and suspended Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MPs HS Khalsa and Dr Dharamvira Gandhi.

Their argument is that controlled drug sale policies introduced by countries like Portugal, Brazil and some states in the US have led to a decline in drug addiction there. They have also pointed out that the NDPS Act has led to the monopoly of some illegal drug cartels, leading to prices of traditional drugs hitting the roof in the illegal market. This, they say, has pushed the youth towards medical drugs and finally towards synthetic drugs.

This group of experts feels that the time has come to shed the moralistic cloud surrounding the subject, and demystify it through a modern and scientific approach, with the age-old empiricism of the past. It has been saying that accusing politicians is not a solution, and what is needed is a policy change.

While giving a call for putting drug lords behind the bars, the Swaraj Party has underlined: "The victims of drugs, instead of branding them culprits, would be admitted to de-addiction centres, so that their potential could be used for the betterment of the society."

Govt should take over liquor sale

Another interesting point in the Swaraj Party road map is that the government should take over the entire business of liquor retail in Punjab. The present system of managing liquor vends in the state has repeatedly drawn controversies.

The most recent were a series of reports in the vernacular media on how vends continue to sell liquor round the clock, while the officially prescribed timing is from 9 am to 11 pm.

Alarmed at the adverse publicity, the state excise and taxation department had conducted surprise checks at 410 liquor vends across the state. During this drive, 83 liquor vends in different districts were found flouting the timing norms.

But this checking drive had also become the butt of jokes as the checks were reportedly carried out between 6 am and 9 am, when the tipplers are asleep, and even the vend managers are taking it easy after brisk business in late night hours.

Another joke doing the rounds was that the raiding teams must themselves have had late night parties, and the early morning raids were an after-party idea.

Jokes apart, the fact remains that finding liquor round the clock is no big deal in the state.

On other issues

On the issue of the agrarian crisis, the party feels that small and marginal farmers along with agriculture labour needs to be freed from the debt trap, and for that, bad loans worth Rs 25,000 crore need to waived off. "While there is a provision for 100 day employment under MNREGA, the state government needs to enhance it by another 100 days," Manjit says.

Saying that successive regimes have turned government schools into 'Dalit schools' where only the children from the marginalised sections study, the party wants several interventions in the education system. It state: "On the pattern of the Right to Education Act, the cost of education incurred by the recognised private institutions would be defrayed by the state; the present exploitation of the staff and faculty by the private institutions would be brought to an end."

Making its stand clear on the issue of sharing Punjab's river waters with neighbouring states, the party has underlined that the riparian principles should not be ignored.

The general perception is that although a small entity at present, whatever damage Swaraj Party would do would be mainly to AAP. Manjit says: " We do not want to present ourselves as a villain. But that does not mean that we will not raise our voice on issues."

Edited by Shreyas Sharma

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First published: 2 July 2016, 19:37 IST