Haryana is worried over the steady rise in the cases of addiction to ‘chitta’ which it believes is being brought in from Punjab, while Himachal police cites supply chains of contrabands from Punjab as their biggest challenge in its battle against drug menace, writes Aayush Goel
“The drugs have permeated the schools and are now sold as grocery items at general stores”. The statement issued by Punjab Governor Banwari Lal Purohit has kicked up a storm. He has during his visit to border districts yet again highlighted the problem that has plagued the state for decades and threatens the generations to come.
After Purohit, it’s the BJP that plans to take up the issue on a large scale. The party has planned a yatra next month against menace which will be led by no less than the Union Home Minister, Amit Shah. The issue has yet again become a much-debated law and order, social, and political issue.
What has added to the notoriety is that the problem has now started affecting nearby states of Haryana and Himachal, with both holding Punjab accountable for drug overdose deaths and peddling menace in their respective states. Haryana is blaming Punjab for overdose deaths in border districts like Sirsa while Himachal CM Sukhwinder Sukhu too is pointing finger at the neighbouring state for the drug menace in hills. According to the National Crime Record Bureau‘s (NCRB) report, in 2022 the state dropped to the third place with regards to the use and trafficking of drugs. The report revealed that Uttar Pradesh has now occupied the top spot with 10,432 FIRs registered under the NDPS Act, followed by Maharashtra (10,078) and Punjab (9,972).
Being situated near the Golden Crescent crossroads (Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran), also called the ‘Triangle of Death’, Punjab is a lucrative market for drug gangs. The state does not produce opium, cannabis or their derivatives nor does it manufacture psychotropic drugs but rides high on ‘chitta’, a synthetic heroin derivative. Punjab alone accounts for over one-fifth of the total recoveries of heroin in the country. Heroin is smuggled into India through Pakistan and the state is the gateway.
The second edition of the book, ‘Roadmap for PPrevention and Control of Substance Abuse in Punjab’, released by the community medicine department of Chandigarh’s Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) stated that more than 3 million people, or around 15.4 per cent of the population of Punjab are consuming drugs. The drug trade in Punjab is estimated annually to be to the tune of Rs 7,500 crore. The most tragic however is the number of overdose deaths. According to various social organisations, the number runs over a thousand with around 200 drug overdose deaths reported in the state in 2022 only. So while the blame game is on, all the Punjabis want is that they be rescued from their biggest woe.
Drug overdose deaths in Punjab
While aspects like smuggling, peddling and drug addiction still make it to official numbers, drug overdose deaths are the darkest but most concealed aspect that plagues the state. As per records, in 2022, Bathinda recorded the highest, 31 drug overdose deaths followed by Tarn Taran and Ferozepur, which have reported 24 and 21 deaths, respectively. Jalandhar and Muktsar have reported 14 and 13 deaths, while Ludhiana and Amritsar districts have reported an estimated 11 deaths each during the past eight months. Patiala, Fazilka, Faridkot and Kapurthala have reported five to seven drug overdose deaths each. The numbers seem farce as one pays a visit to Tibba Basti in Zira in Ferozepur or Maqboolpura in Amritsar. A study by the Institute for Development and Communications, Chandigarh, says that 75.8 per cent of the surveyed addicts lived in the border districts and were aged between 15-35 years are currently consuming drugs. “Its politico-bureaucrat-police nexus which aggravated the issue which is now claiming our children’s lives. I have been an eyewitness to many drug overdose deaths. Police officials are involved in drug trafficking and half of them are addicts themselves and have their own sales agents in each village. The politicians and bureaucrats know this but turn a blind eye as it not just helps them earn but keeps their politics alive,” says Nirbhay Singh, President of Kirti Kisan Union.
Haryana struggling with drug overdose deaths
Located at the tri-junction of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan, Sirsa has long been the epicentre of drugs in Haryana. What is worrying is that for the last few years, there has been a steady rise in the cases of addiction to ‘chitta’ which is being brought in from Punjab. The district along with Fatehabad has reported many drug overdose deaths. Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khttar himself has announced that over 40 deaths were reported from the area last year. The local authorities blame Punjab for the menace. “They are ruining our youth as well. Haryana on its part is taking all efforts and curtailing the menace, but not just failure but patronisation of drugs by Punjab authorities has put Haryana in a spot. The successive governments have failed to curtail the menace which is spreading to other states as well,” says state BJP President OP Dhankar. Haryana Police seized 24 tonnes of narcotic substances worth crores of rupees this year. Director General of Police (DGP), Haryana, PK Agrawal said they have also attached properties worth Rs 31.45 crore of those involved in drug trafficking under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. Besides, the process to attach properties worth Rs 12.23 crore of those facing charges of smuggling drugs in the state is in progress. The police have filed a total of 3636 cases under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act in 2022, as against the 2583 cases registered in 2021.
Record number of drugs cases in Himachal
Conventionally known as a supplier of ‘Charas’ a product derivative of cannabis plants Himachal today struggles with ‘chitta’ addiction smuggled from Punjab. In 2022, Himachal police under the NDPS Act arrested 1,992 persons, 89 of them foreigners, in over 1500 cases. The police say that ironically drug abuse is on rise despite several strategies put in place and cites supply chains of Chitta from Punjab as the biggest Challenge. CM Sukhwinder Sukhu has on numerous occasions cited the same as top priority. “We look forward to working with Punjab on this, starting with information exchange. We need to deal with the issue in both states to uproot the menace,” he says.
When contacted, the chief spokesperson, AAP Punjab, Malwinder Singh Kang, said that the Bhagwant Mann government had vowed to make all efforts to end the chain of drug smuggling and peddling. He also blamed the previous governments for allegedly patronising drug smugglers and gangsters. “Successive governments have promoted and nurtured it for decades and we are expected to be carrying a magic wand. Punjab police and BSF have to be more proactive to break the nexus. We are making steady efforts to uproot the menace and results will be visible soon,” says Kang.
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) spokesperson, Charanjit Singh Brar, claims that while the previous Congress government provided safe haven for smugglers, AAP government has gone a step ahead in providing home delivery of the drugs. “Most of the people who died in 2022 were aged from 16 to 35 years. Home delivery of drugs is also being done. Drugs have killed more youths in Punjab than terrorism,” Brar said. BJP which promises to catch bull by horns says they are not dealing with the issue as political. “We don’t blame anyone but the system, especially the police. This is the same force that eliminated terrorism so we don’t buy that they can’t deal with peddling. State is crying for help and we are standing up for it. We have the ability and Union Home Minister Amit Shah will lead us,” said Sunil Jhakhar, BJP national executive member while talking to Tehekla.