Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Punjab’s war on drugs is more a war on drug addicts - by VARINDER BHATIA, Navjeevan Gopal , Man Aman Singh Chhina

In May 2014, stung by allegations of inaction over the rampant abuse and trafficking of drugs, the Punjab government launched an aggressive crackdown with Deputy Chief Minister and Home Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal declaring: “We will spare no one.” These words resonated in police stations across the state with 17,068 arrests in 2014 and 11,593 more until December 2015. But that’s just on the surface.

Dig deeper and what emerges is a story of a rush to rack up numbers. Punjab’s war on drugs has, in effect, turned into a war on its addicts, the most vulnerable rung at the bottom of the supply ladder. That’s one of the key findings of an eight-month-long investigation by The Indian Express of 6,598 FIRs made available last year under the Right to Information Act.

These FIRs were registered under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance (NDPS) Act from January 1 to December 31, 2014 in 152 police stations that fall under 14 of the 28 police districts in Punjab. An analysis of the numbers tells the story: At least 2,555 out of the 6,028 arrests — or 42.4 per cent — were for possession of 5 gm or less of heroin, 100 gm or less of intoxicant powder, 50 gm or less of opium, 1 kg or less of poppy husk and 100 or less capsules or tablets.

“Those who have been arrested were merely small-time peddlers. No drug lord worth his name has been put behind bars. The crackdown was absolutely flawed and done to make up the numbers. It took place without any foresight and planning. Addiction is a sickness like any other disease and there is no point in putting addicts behind bars,” said Shashi Kant, former DGP (Prisons), who now runs an NGO, Nasha Virodhi Manch, to help addicts.

Nothing illustrates the cracks in the crackdown better than police records from Boot village in Kapurthala, where 47 FIRs were filed under the NDPS Act. The Indian Express visited Boot and investigated each of those FIRs, which together name 63 accused, to find that at least 28 — or nearly 60 per cent — were registered for possession. Details from a selection of these FIRs illustrate who this crackdown really targeted… read more: