Rajat Sharma

Punjab in the grip of drug addiction

akb full_frame_74900Narcotics addiction in Punjab has reached alarming proportions with visuals of young men and women openly taking drugs in Amritsar and several other cities. In my primetime show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Tuesday night, we showed disturbing visuals of a newly married girl, wearing bridal clothes and wedding bangles, struggling to walk on the street. She was finding it difficult to even stand on her feet. This video was shot in Maqboolpura locality of Amritsar, notorious for drug trade. With droopy, red eyes, she was struggling with herself to regain her composure. She was under the influence of opium.

The video is only the tip of the iceberg. Drugs abuse and sale of narcotics is going on openly across Punjab. In our show, we showed visuals of a large number of used syringes thrown on the roadside. Maqboolpura is known as the village of orphans and widows, where most of the people have died due to overuse of drugs.

After watching the video of the newly-wed girl, I sent my reporters to meet families living in Maqboolpura locality in Amritsar. What they found was horrifying. Drugs abuse has wrecked Punjab’s social fabric.

India TV reporter Gonika Arora, who went to Amritsar, reported that sale and purchase of drugs was going on openly in Maqboolpura, despite a police post nearby. Local residents narrated how several families lost their near and dear ones because of drugs. One girl told our reporter that she has been taking drugs for the last 10-12 years, and she visits Maqboolpura only for buying drugs. Our reporter recorded visuals of girls sitting in rickshaws and openly taking drugs.

Several local residents told our reporter that they were planning to sell their houses and move elsewhere because of rampant drugs trade in their locality. There are twelve lanes in Maqboolpura locality, and in every lane, drugs trade is going on openly. Neither the drug addicts are willing to go for rehabilitation, nor is the police ready to take action.

A recent study made by doctors in the Post-Grade Institute of Medical Education, Chandigarh, reveals that one in seven persons in Punjab have become drug addicts. The drugs trade in Punjab is estimated annually to the tune of Rs 7,500 crore. Because of drug abuse, crime rate has jumped by nearly 33 per cent. In many of the homes, youths have died due to overuse of drugs.

Our reporter noted down five case studies of drug-affected families in Maqboolpura.

In the first home, a woman Rajbir disclosed how her husband became a drug addict and sold off his assets. The family is now on the verge of starvation, but her husband is unwilling to stop drugs abuse.

In the second home, 70-year-old Satpal Singh had only one son, who became a drug addict three years ago. He narrated how his son, who works as a mason, refuses to give a single paisa of his earnings, and spends them on drugs. He has been arrested by police twice.

In the third case, our reporter went to the home of an old couple. They sat holding a picture of their son, with tears in their eyes. Their son died due to overuse of drugs. The elderly couple is now bedridden, bereft of any assistance.

In the fourth home, a woman named Bholi narrated how her husband and son died due to addiction. Her husband was an alcoholic and died four years ago, and five months later, her 21-year-old son died due to drugs.

In the fifth case study, our reporter met a 16-year-old boy. There were no male adults in his family. His father and two uncles died of drugs. The boy now works to feed his mom and two aunts.

India TV reporter met the local AAP MLA Jeevanjot Kaur, who had defeated Congress stalwart Navjot Singh Sidhu. She claimed that authorities were taking action and local residents have even complained that police is harassing families in some cases. She claimed that police was making recoveries of drugs from traders. But the ground reality proves otherwise.

Our reporter also met Amritsar Police Commissioner Arun Pal Singh, who said, he had seen the video of the newly married girl, and she has been sent to a rehab centre. The police chief admitted that Maqboolpura has become the hotspot for drug peddlers, but since Amritsar is close to international border, it has become a big challenge to eliminate drug traffickers.

On record, Punjab Police claims, in the last two months since July 5, it has seized Rs 2.73 crore cash, 322 kg heroin, 167 kg opium, 145 kg ganja, 222 quintals choora-post (sawdust poppy) and Rs 16.9 lakh worth drug tablets, capsules and injections. The state police claims, it arrested 4,223 drug peddlers and 3,236 FIRs were registered.

After going through these statistics meticulously, I found only 328 cases relate to drug traffickers, and all the remaining cases relate to drug addicts. Clearly, in order to inflate figures, police took action against drug addicts. The figures may look big, but the cases that will go to courts will make it easier for drug peddlers to come out on bail, and restart their trade.

On Tuesday night, while my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ was being telecast, came news that 17 Punjab Police officers including the SHO of Maqboolpura has been transferred. But such cosmetic action will not help in striking at the roots of this grave problem.

The hard fact is that there is total lack of political will to take action against drugs traders in Punjab, whichsoever party is in power. Shiromani Akali Dal government did not sincerely take action when it was in power, while Congress and its leader Rahul Gandhi raised the drugs issue during elections and promised to make Punjab drugs-free. Even Navjot Singh Sidhu made loud noises about tackling drug peddlers, but no major action was taken during the last five years.

On the eve of assembly elections, FIRs were filed against some Akali leaders and arrests were made, but the common people knew the trick, and responded to Sidhu accordingly. The people elected AAP leader Jeevanjot Kaur as their MLA, but even she has failed to make much headway. It’s time that AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal, who had promised to make Punjab free from the poison of drugs during elections, must fulfil his promise.

I still remember, in 2014, I had gone to Amritsar to record my show ‘Aap Ki Adalat’ with BJP leader Arun Jaitley, who was contesting LS elections from the city, as my guest. A young girl stood up among the audience and with folded hands, with tears flowing from her eyes, requested, “Punjab has everything, but please, for God’s sake, free our state from the evil of drugs. Please save our boys in Punjab”.

The sad voice of that young girl still rings in my ears. Drugs have destroyed Punjab’s youth and has sapped its strength. It is a burning issue on which all political parties must join hands. Both the Centre and the state government must chalk out a pro-active policy to solve this problem.

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