The crackdown on the drug menace in Punjab that the Chief Minister, Captain Amarinder Singh had initiated seems to have sent ripples across the government machinery. According to the latest order every government official will have to undergo mandatorily a drug test at the time of joining, and at every stage of his or her career progression. The test has been made compulsory for all government staff, including police personnel. Having won the election on the promise of eradicating the menace totally he had to initiate some action and he has gone about it in earnest. He was also quick to carry out a thorough overhaul of the police machinery and inducting young officers to head all the police stations.
These moves understandably have led to strong apprehensions in several quarters over the impact these would have on officials who test positive and whether this could lead to their being sacked. Such fears are symptoms of the depth to which the menace has crept into the state. This also reflects genuine worries that the officials may entertain regarding undue harassment or whether they would be found guilty even if all they did was to consume a few spoons of cough syrup.
Captain Amarinder Singh’s decision, nevertheless, shows that the government machinery has not remained untouched by the menace. There have been instances of police officials charged with involvement in the drug trade and against whom action has been initiated. Earlier this month, for instance, several officials were suspended for delay in initiating actions against drug smugglers. An officer of the DSP rank was dismissed for forcing a Ludhiana woman into drugs, and six officers had been suspended at two different police stations in Sangrur. These actions, the Government said, had been taken to send out a strong message that those failing to comply with government directives and who do not discharge their duties, will not be spared.
The Chief Minister has clarified that the dope test order is not aimed at punishing or harassing government staff. Amid apprehensions that the government may initiate punitive action against any employee tested positive, he said that those who failed to clear the test, will not be sacked. They would be provided with proper treatment and the identity of such staff will also be kept strictly confidential. These clarifications were issued after the Cabinet held a review meeting.
Meanwhile the determination to keep the pressure on drug peddlers as well as those who indulge in substance abuse has taken a weird turn with half a dozen deputy commissioners banning the sale of syringes and disposable injections without prescription from licensed doctors and the Health Minister having to come down quickly on what he called a ‘step taken in haste’.
The Minister’s response came after the medical fraternity, including the elite PGIMER of Chandigarh, pointed out that an artificial scarcity of syringes could be as dangerous as drugs. The doctors reasoned that people would tend to reuse the needle, increasing the chances of the spread of Hepatitis and HIV among the users.
There were also reports that people who want the syringes are, in any case, ordering them online, and getting their supply.
Besides these measures, many deputy commissioners are also reaching out to people directly, visiting villages and urging them to go to de-addiction centres if need be, and asking parents to spend time with their children. Some have even launched awareness campaigns and these people-centric measures seem to resonate more than the edicts issued by the bureaucracy.
Though the crackdown had choked the supply lines, hardened addicts have been quick to find innovative ways by the use of other concoctions. While police claim overwhelming public support for the campaign, and the youth in huge numbers were coming to avail of drug de-addiction and rehabilitation, this is also because the use of concoctions was resulting in a scary scenario with instantaneous deaths.
While the Chief Minister has promised he would wipe off drugs from the state, the recent spate of deaths due to drug overdose has put question marks over the crackdown.
The flip side is that the shortage of heroin has led to the adulteration of ‘Chitta’ that had led to more deaths, according to the assistant director of Narcotics Control Bureau, Mohinderjeet Singh. This year alone Punjab has seen a steep decline in supply of drugs, especially ‘Chitta’ because of the strict enforcement by police, BSF and other agencies, he said. Though the supply has decreased the demand has not changed and the increase in deaths has also brought focus to the ‘Cut Drug’, which many say has replaced ‘Chitta’.
‘Chitta’, Singh says, was marketed as a pure form of heroin. Now with the drug getting popular this is merely a new way of peddlers attracting addicts. ‘We have sent some samples and will get to know what exactly it is after the reports come out,’ said Singh.
Peddlers have also become more innovative, mixing synthetic drugs to fulfil this demand. A drug addict doesn’t recover easily, according to Singh. The ones who are in a bad state can take at least two years to come out of it and so they take these synthetic drugs that are made locally and this leads to health problems, and sometimes even death.
Giving information related to the increase in seizures, Singh said, ‘Punjab police had seized around 200 kg of heroin last year and this year they have already seized around 190 kg heroin in the past five to six months. Similarly, the BSF seized around 211 kg heroin in trans-border seizures and this year they have already collected 160 kg.’
According to data that NCB receives every month from Punjab police, last year they registered around 9,500 cases and more than 10,000 people were arrested. From January till May, 5,000 have been arrested and 4500 cases have already been registered.
An expatriate author visiting Punjab after four decades discovered recently that the countryside he recalls once reverberating to the music of the Shabad from the gurdwaras and Bulle Shah and dolaks has now become so noisy with honking and sirens and the harsh light of the boom towns. Where has all that serenity and solace of that countryside gone, he wondered. In the frenzy and excitement where have the people who were so unflappable and so hospitable lost their unique character?
And how have other places, countries faced with such problems been able to overcome them? Venezuela, for instance, could provide some clue. Caracas, the capital, had at one time a major problem of rampant drug addiction. And the parks of the city were full of addicts and they were such a menace. One mayor had an innovative idea and he started playing Western classical music, Hayden and Handel, with hidden music systems in the parks that were not visible. These soft notes made the addicts so uncomfortable they started to leave the place slowly. He also met some of them and provided them with violins and they started to learn to play. Gradually he discovered that the whole place of young addicts have been transformed into violinists! One of them from this park went on to lead the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.
Possibly shabads and dhrupad music played softly in public places might have such an effect, who knows? It is said that the periodic holding of all-night qawalis in the small towns of Uttar Pradesh had a therapeutic effect. These towns were free of communal tensions for nearly two months after each session. It would be worthwhile if some sociologist were to collate the incidence of communal and other tensions with the increase in the spread of the television news channels, especially the round the clock channels. The music of shabad and jagrans and qawalis filled the nights at one time, and now panellists and academics and sociologists and clinical psychologists hold forth. How can the countryside remain serene, after such toxic emissions?