The lush green fields of Punjab and the live-life-to-the-full attitude of its residents is in danger of being violated by a menace which is rapidly assuming the shape of an epidemic. The state which battled and defeated terrorism is now in grips of a vicious drug mafia which is not only causing large scale drug usage here but also turning the state into a drug hub for smuggling. While Punjab police has been crackling down heavily on drug smuggling, the inflow of drug from across the border appears to be endless.
Reports say that even the electrified fence that runs along the Indo-Pak border and heavy patrolling has not been able to stem this flow. Recently police shot dead a man trying to infiltrate the border. Over 14 kg of high quality heroin was recovered from him. “For Punjab this is becoming a huge problem. It has turned into a drug hub. Old smugglers have taken to trading in drugs that make their way from Afghanistan to Pakistan and then to Delhi,” says Zonal Director, Narcotics Control Bureau (Chandigarh), Dr Saji Mohan. Narcotics control officials say drug trade is estimated to be worth around 5000 crores in Punjab alone.
Reports are now indicating that there has been a bumper opium crop in Afghanistan this season and there are reasons to believe that this could lead to even more drugs being pushed through to Punjab via Pakistan. Needless to say that Pakistan is well aware and has been simply turning a blind eye to the drug consignment as it passes through the country. Experts say that the route is simple: Drugs come into Punjab from Afghanistan or Pakistan, get routed to Delhi and from here it makes its way to North America and Europe.
What is even more worrying is that apart from being used as a drug hub, it is also enveloping the state into being one of the largest user of drugs. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had recently said that over 70 per cent of Punjabi youths were in grips of drug addiction-an extremely serious situation if Rahul Gandhi’s statement is backed with facts. Reports also say that there is another reason for this growing addiction to drugs in Punjab. The zonal superintendent of NCB, Nirbhay Singh was reported as saying that land prices in Punjab have gone up and the youth have access to a lot of money, so the consumption of drugs has also gone up. More so because in any case it is constantly transiting through the state and is available to youth.
The recent revelations that Olympian boxer Vijender Singh and his sparring partners Ram Singh has further fanned the belief that with drugs available, it is taking Punjab youth in its grip. In fact reports now also say that Patiala-based National Institute of Sports (NIS) is under watch following the Vijender Singh-Ram Singh revelations. Investigations have already revealed that peddlers were involved in supplying drugs to these two sportsmen-a clear indication that peddlers apart from using Punjab as a transit point into India are using a significant part of their consignment in the state.
It is obvious that Pakistan rangers are either in cahoots with the drug cartel which pays its way to travel through Pakistan or are simply not bothered about this aspect. Pakistan’s worry would obviously be if there is someone infiltrating into Pakistan rather than moving out. In any case since there have been countless instances where Pakistan army has facilitated infiltration of terrorists into India so the chances of a similar situation cannot be ruled out. On the border, security is tight with regular foot patrols, telescope scans. Nevertheless, the drugs, somehow, make it across the border, either hidden inside cavities in furniture, or inside vehicles. Smugglers in Pakistan often use Indian SIM cards to communicate, taking advantage of overlapping mobile signals. BSF officers say that they have been making these points with Pakistan rangers at various flag meetings but not much has resulted.
A far as tackling the problem is concerned since the centre and state governments are rivals, there is a constant effort to try and blame the other for the problem. While the SAD government blames the centre for not helping in tackling the problem since the borders are controlled by the centre, the centre says it is the state government’s duty to stop the drug infested areas in Punjab.
The state government after Rahul Gandhi’s statement has ordered a survey to identify drug addicts across the state. State health department has discussed the issue with the senior officials of United Nations Health Programme and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). ICMR Director V Katoch offered support to the state in the matter after confirming that the issues related to drugs had been discussed with the officials concerned decrepit. Katoch also said that an elaborate document had been prepared on the issue by Vini Mahajan, Principal Secretary, Health and welfare. According to a senior official, the studies on the drug menace, conducted in the past, were based on haphazard samplings, and little effort was put into differentiating between drug abuse and the drug addiction.
Assessments indicate that drug seizures from Punjab border have increased by 200 per cent over in the last two years and now accounts for more than 50 per cent of all heroin seized by Indian police annually. As per the reports, the Border Security Force (BSF) seized nearly 290 kgs heroin, worth Rs 1450 crore, from the Punjab border border in last year (2012), which is approximately half of the 600 to 650 kg contraband recovered across the country. If the recoveries made by the Punjab Police and the Customs department is also included, then Punjab accounts for 70 per cent of the total heroin recovered in the country.
There are indications that in spite of denials the Punjab government is waking up to the problem considering the swift seizures and arrests being made. Since the seizure of over 28 kg heroin March 7, Punjab Police claimed to have seized huge quantities of drugs, including lifestyle drugs used in parties, from various places. Based on international prices for these drugs, police said the haul was valued at Rs.484 crore.
Drugs have always been a problem in Punjab for the same reason as it is today. But in older times it was restricted to remote villages. Now it is across the state and rap[idly increasing. Both the Central and state governments need to forget political rivalry and join hands to combat it.