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Knee-jerk Reactions Won’t Work, Sincerity Of Action Will

The grim war against rampant drug abuse in Punjab can be equated to the one against the equally ugly phenomenon of stone-pelting in Kashmir. In both, knee-jerk reactions of the establishment have failed to deliver. The might of the state and its various agencies by itself has proved to be largely ineffective. The reasons are not far to seek. Something which has been allowed to fester for years and decades will not just go away with the use of force alone. Delving deep into the psychology of the perpetrators and the pawns alike will perhaps lead to framing of policies that are better equipped to judge where to apply the balm and where to use the surgical blade. Even brilliant and experienced medical brains have to delve deep into their study and investigations before deciding whether to treat a malignant tumour with chemotherapy or to remove it altogether.

Under intense pressure of public perception over the spate of recent drug abuse related deaths across the state, the Capt. Amarinder Singh led state cabinet on Monday may have just uncorked another knee-jerk reaction in haste. By recommending to the Centre to declare death penalty for drug peddlers and smugglers as a deterrent to the heinous crime, it is seeking to add one more crime to the long list of death penalty crimes, a recent addition to which was the central ordinance for condemning rapists of girls below 12 years to death, which has been adopted by the state government. This leads one to wonder whether capital punishment is the only answer to all heinous crimes happening with distressing frequency across the country. This way we may be headed towards a situation where death penalty will be among the most trending judgements in the country.

Knee-jerk Reactions Won’t Work, Sincerity Of Action Will, Lifeinchd

Photo By : Life In Chandigarh

Punjab cabinet at ‘half-mast’

The state cabinet, before the start of its meeting on Monday, is understood to have observed silence for the drug abuse deaths, besides the killings of Indians in a suicide attack in Afghanistan and farmers’ suicides. Were members of the state cabinet hanging their heads in respect, or in shame for the failure of the state government in tackling drug abuse? Till recently the state government was patting its back for effectively tackling drug abuse by belting out figures of seizures and arrests. Now while taking a decision to recommend death penalty, the state government has resorted to the argument that drug peddling and smuggling was destroying the youth of Punjab along with many other parts of the country, a clear admission that things are not in control.

Senior Ministers Defensive

Even senior ministers in the state appear to be defensive and apologetic about the situation. It was officially admitted by the state government that outspoken Minister for Local Government Navjot Singh Sidhu “expressed concern at the public perception that the (state) government had not succeeded in eliminating the drug menace. He also lamented the reported instances of involvement of police personnel in drug menace and urged strict action against the guilty cops.”

Failed To Break Nexus

Despite creating a special task force (STF) under an ADGP rank officer, back from deputation with the central government, immediately on taking over power in the state in line with his election promise of wiping out substance abuse menace from the state, Capt. Amarinder Singh’s government appears to have failed to break the well entrenched nexus between drug network and black sheep among politicians of all hues, bureaucrats and the police force, which is common knowledge. The STF, which for nearly a year was functioning independently and its chief reporting directly to the Chief Minister, was later, integrated into the state police force as the top police brass squabbled over issues of chain of command within the uniformed force.

Human Factor Largely Ignored

In this cat and mouse game, focussed on cutting off supply lines of drugs, the human factor has apparently not been given the kind of deep focus and sincere action it deserves. It is only now, when the issue of government failure has again erupted and taken centre stage, elements within the government are talking about starting a mass movement by involving parents and the community at large and treating the addicts with sensitivity while protecting their dignity and identity.

Stop Bragging

The state government would be well advised to stop reeling out figures to show success and get down to creating a massive network of infrastructure and trained doctors, counsellors, volunteers and public opinion makers, including celebrities, and generating imaginative songs, skits, posters and other publicity materials through public partnership and open competitions to show its real intent to make a serious and sincere attempt to integrate the substance abuse victims into the mainstream.

Coin a new dignified term while addressing substance abuse victims. Stop calling them drug addicts ! Rename Drug De-addiction Centres.

Highlights Of Monday’s Deliberations

1. A formal recommendation for death penalty to drug peddlers and smugglers to be sent to the central government.

2. Special Working Group to be constituted under the chairmanship of Additional Chief Secretary (Home) NS Kalsi to review and monitor, on a day-to-day basis, action being taken to check and control drug abuse. The working group will have ACS (Health) Satish Chandra, DGP (Intelligence) Dinkar Gupta, ADGP (Law & Order) Ishwar Singh and ADGP (STF) HS Sidhu as members.

3. Cabinet sub-committee formed under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister, with Health & Family Welfare Minister Brahm Mohindra and Social Security Minister Aruna Chaudhary as its members. It will meet once every week. The Special Working Group to report directly to the cabinet sub-committee.

4. State DGP Suresh Arora directed by the Chief Minister to intensify the police crackdown. No complacency to be tolerated.

5. STF chief suggests registration of cases in all recent incidents of substance abuse deaths with a view to identify and mitigate the risk factors, including possible supply of spurious drugs and mixing of drugs with other death-causing substances. Suggests intensified training of Drug Awareness Prevention Officers (DAPOs) to help substance abuse victims cope with social stigma.

6. ACS (Home) NS Kalsi calls for holistic strategy involving Enforcement Wing and Drug De-addiction & Rehabilitation Centres. Suggests state DGP take to task district SSPs found not performing up to the mark in the fight against substance abuse and pen down adverse remarks in their ACRs.

7. DGP Suresh Arora defends solid work put in by state police. Cites figures to show arrests and seizures have registered a sharp increase since the new government took charge of the state. Claims seizures of heroin have subsequently declined due to effective action of police, STF, and various central agencies and increased deployment of BSF with upgraded surveillance technology and other infrastructure on the international borders. Suggests it is possible that facing a shortage, substance abuse victims may be resorting to consumption of adulterated drugs, leading to deaths. However, admits real cause of deaths could be ascertained only after chemical analysis.   

8. Health Minister Brahm Mohindra informs meeting that 81 Patient Opioid Assisted Treatment (OOAT) centres are currently functioning effectively in the state and so far 8,000 youth had been successfully treated in these. Affirms identities of substance abuse victims and their families have been strictly kept confidential to save them from social stigma.

9. Water Supply & Sanitation Minister Razia Sultana suggests taking parents into confidence to facilitate treatment and rehabilitation of substance abuse victims.

10. Housing & Urban Development Minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa underlines need for motivating substance abuse victims to get treatment at drug de-addiction centres.

11. Senior Advisor to the Chief Minister Lt. Gen. (retd.) TS Shergill opines Guardians of Governance (GoG) Programme, under which an army of ex-servicemen have been deployed at the grassroots level in Punjab to monitor implementation of central and state government welfare schemes, could play a vanguard role in sensitising youth on the issue of substance abuse. Calls for generating a grassroots level movement to involve people in the fight against drugs.

12. Advocate General Atul Nanda points out NDPS Act is a very sensitive and specialised legislation, and, as a corrective measure, suggests creation of a special cadre of at least 15 well-trained prosecutors to secure convictions of drug offenders in an effective manner.

13. Secretary School Education Krishan Kumar informs meeting about special chapters being included in Physical Education text books to sensitise students from class VI onwards about drugs and their ill-effects. Further says two dedicated teachers have been deputed in each High and Senior Secondary School to create awareness about substance abuse and its adverse effects on mental and physical health.

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