Worries mount as Punjab remains in the vice-like grip of drugs

With 14 persons dying due to drug overdose in just two weeks while over 280 addicts succumbing in the past 3 years in Punjab, the state government seems to be all at sea in dealing with the crisis even as opposition blames CM Mann for not doing enough to control the situation, reports Aayush Goel

Fourteen alleged drug overdose deaths in just two weeks. While the figures drew the nation’s attention to the drug menace in Punjab, it prompted the authorities to serve old wine a new bottle in the name of counter-measure. Drug-free Punjab has been a dream of the masses and a promise of political classes for decades. Over 280 drug addicts have died in the past three years.

According to an affidavit submitted by the Punjab police in the Punjab and Haryana High Court, drug overdose claimed 159 lives in 2022–23, 71 in 2021–22, and 36 in 2020–21. Successive governments adopted new initiatives, but nothing seems to have worked for the state where youth continue to be in the grip of drug addiction and waste themselves like their predecessors. The latest figures cited by none other than CM Bhagwant Mann himself remind one of June 2018 when 23 youths died from overdose, some with syringes still in their arms. 

The latest deaths have been reported from districts like Gurdaspur, Abohar, Moga, Amritsar and Ferozepur. In Gurdaspur’s Deeda Sansian village, three middle-aged men succumbed to drug overdose, one with syringe marks on his body.  In Abohar, two individuals were found dead due to suspected drug abuse. The Malout police have booked two persons following the mysterious death of 23-year-old Jagmeet Singh, alleged to be due to a drug overdose.

The police have registered cases against alleged drug suppliers in nearly half of the recent deaths but both they and the government are struggling to find out how to battle the mass addiction. While authorities claim to be taking stringent steps, the data raises question mark over the impact and efficiency of the same. Punjab remains in the vice-like grip of drug menace as in the first six months of 2024, the state police have registered 4,373 cases under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, and have also arrested 6,002 people.

In the last three years, 29,010 cases under the NDPS Act were registered, and 39,832 people were arrested, besides 2,710 kg of heroin seized. The Punjab Police last week conducted a massive state-level ‘cordon and search operation’ (CASO) named ‘EAGLE-IV’ targeting identified drug hotspots across the state. The government has prepared a list of 750 hotspots and 9,000 street-level peddlers.

Special DGP, Law and Order, Arpit Shukla said the state government has enforced a three-pronged strategy, Enforcement, Deaddiction, and Prevention (EDP) to eradicate drugs from the state. While both the police and Bhagwant Mann-led AAP government claim to be doing all in its might to fight the menace, the fact that people are dying by the day highlights that more needs to be done and in an effective manner.

10,000 cops transferred

In what is being dubbed as the first crackdown against the police peddler network in Punjab, CM  Bhagwant Mann went on to transfer at least 10,000 police personnel, right from the rank of constable. Mann, mincing no words, said that the transfers were made after he realised that drug peddlers had a nexus with police.

Though DGP Gaurav Yadav called transfers regular exercise which was stalled owing to the model code of conduct during elections. DGP Yadav said, “We have carried out a massive rejig under the police rules that say no police officer can be posted at a place for more than nine years and also in his home district. We have now carried out this massive exercise. More transfers will be taking place in the coming days.” CM Mann differs on the reason. He said several complaints had gone unheeded and, in some cases, the accused had been let off even before the complainants could return to their villages.

“There is a nexus at the munshi level. The SHOs have been sitting in the same police station for 10-20 years. That is why I ordered mass transfers. If a police officer is found to have some nexus, he will be immediately dismissed from service. In the next seven days, his property will be confiscated and he will be investigated. If a police officer does this, it is a sin. He has to pay the price for this,” Mann said while issuing transfer orders. He further stated that a drug seizure database was prepared when the Model Code of Conduct for the Lok Sabha elections was in place. The state now has a database of 9,000 suspects who were involved in the business of carting drugs and the state will soon launch mass arrests.

 “I have told the DGP to launch a crackdown on drugs. Now, we are working towards eliminating the menace. The peddlers will go to jail, their property will be confiscated and the drug addicts will be taken to hospitals. We have a plan for de-addiction and rehabilitation. We will soon be creating 10,000 new posts for police and also work on countering drug influx from the neighboring country,” added Mann.

Menace worsened under AAP: Opposition

Raising apprehension over the drug overdose fatalities in Punjab, leader of the Opposition (LoP) Partap Singh Bajwa on Tuesday accused the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)-led Punjab government of “attempting to hide the actual number of drug overdose deaths”. He said more than 14 people had died in two weeks but no survey or study has been conducted to assess the gravity of the deaths caused by drug overdose.” The AAP-led Punjab govt’s dilly-dallying response to such issues has augmented the drug menace. What they have been doing is adopting those tactics that have proven to be failures,” Bajwa said. BJP leader Manjinder Singh Sirsa alleged that the youth of the state was suffering due to Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann’s greed. He accused AAP MLAs and MPs of direct involvement in making the drug mafia stronger in Punjab. Sharing one of the viral videos of an addict on his official X account, he came down heavily on the AAP government and Mann. “This late-night video of Amritsar of a young girl high on drugs shows the failure of the AAP Punjab Government! What have you done to Punjab, CM Bhagwant Mann Ji? You came to power promising the elimination of drugs in 3 months but now your own party people are involved in this! Drug Mafia has become stronger with direct involvement of AAP MLAs and MPs… Punjab’s youth is dying due to Bhagwant Mann’s greed,”  said Sirsa in his post. 

AAP MP and party’s official spokesperson from Punjab, Malwinder Singh Kang, while speaking to Tehlaka, said that AAP was the first government to deal with the issue with an iron fist. “The drug menace has been nurtured by their successive governments for over 40 years and they raise a finger at us. We are working in the most organised and strict manner and efforts are showing results that every Punjabi can endorse. We are the first ones to acknowledge deaths and go ahead uprooting the key cause,” he said.