Punjab’s war against drugs: What the Congress government has done so far to curb the menace

Days after the state government decided to make the recommendation to the Centre, CM Amarinder Singh issued orders mandating an annual drug test for all its employees, including new recruits. 

Amid allegations against the Punjab Police’s role in tackling the state’s drug menace, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Wednesday passed orders making it mandatory for all government employees to undergo an annual drug test. The order also covers new recruits and employees being considered for promotion.

This comes on the back of the government recommending death penalty for drug traffickers who are first-time offenders.

Why is drug abuse back in news again?

Recently, four suspected drug-related deaths were reported from across the state. In Talwandi Sabo area of Bathinda district, a 24-year-old man was found unconscious in Rampura area with a syringe lying nearby. He was taken to a hospital where doctors declared him dead on arrival. His relatives admitted that he had been an addict for the past three-four years.

In another case, Basant Singh (27) died allegedly due to drug overdose in Khilchian village of Ferozepur. The family did not lodge a police complaint but said Basant was an addict and had been taking intravenous drugs.

A 21-year-old man, Shivam, died in Ferozepur city and police sources said he used to take intravenous drugs.

Manmohan Singh, a resident of Ladhowal village of Ferozepur, also died allegedly of drug overdose.

However, police said that no all cases of deaths should be related to consumption of drugs. “A few days ago, one Avtar Singh of Khai Femeke had died and it was linked with drugs. But in fact, he had a neurological problem. His family never got post-mortem done. We will investigate all such cases as no one has come to the police with any drug-related allegations,” Preetam Singh, Ferozepur Senior Superintendent of Police, had said.

Besides this, according to media reports, as many as 23 people died due to drug overdose last month.

How did the government react?

In a recently-chaired Cabinet meet, the Congress government had decided to recommend to the central government death penalty for drug traffickers.  The move came in the wake of flak from opposition parties, mainly Aam Aadmi Party and SAD, and public who sharply criticised the government for its failure to curb the drug abuse in the state despite promising to do so in the 2017 assembly elections. Observing a ‘Black Week’ (July 1-7), people had staged protests across the state against the government’s inaction. A call to observe the first week of July as ‘Black Week’ had been given by several NGOs and prominent personalities of the state to wake up the government.

“Drug peddling is destroying entire generations and it deserves exemplary punishment,” the CM had said.

What does the law say?

While Section 31A of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act already provides for death penalty for second-time offenders who engaged in production, manufacture, possession, transport or transhipment, or financing any of these activities, the government later clarified that “the Chief Minister has demanded death penalty in the first instance of conviction”.

What does Section 31A, NDPS Act reads after amendment in 2001?

31-A. Death penalty for certain offences after previous conviction —

(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in Section 31, if any person who has been convicted of the commission of, or attempt to commit, or abetment of, or criminal conspiracy to commit, any of the offences punishable under (Section 19, Section 24, Section 27-A and for offences involving commercial quantity of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance), is subsequently convicted of the commission of, or attempt to commit, or abetment of, or criminal conspiracy to commit, an offence relating to:

(a) engaging in the production, manufacture, possession, transportation, import into India, export from India or transhipment, of the narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances.

(b) financing, directly or indirectly, any of the activities specified in clause (a) shall be punishable with death.

(2) Where any person is convicted by a competent Court of criminal jurisdiction outside India under any law corresponding to the provisions of [Section 19, Section 24 or Section 27-A and for offences involving commercial quantity of any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance] such person, in respect of such conviction, shall be dealt with for the purposes of sub-section (1) as if he had been convicted by a Court in India.

What is the annual drug test for govt employees all about?

After the government dismissed a DSP and Head Constable and transferred an SSP amid allegations of Punjab Police’s role in tackling drugs, Minister Tript Singh Bajwa demanded drug tests for police personnel from the rank of DSP to Inspector-General of Police. He even said that he suspected a few police officers were addicted to drugs.

CM Amarinder Singh issued orders mandating an annual drug test for all its employees, including new recruits. According to the new order, employees will be tested for drugs before being considered for promotion and it will be conducted apart from the annual medical check.

The matter is likely to be taken up for discussion in the Cabinet soon and as per sources, the chief secretary has been directed to work out the modalities and get the order notified.

What other steps were taken to curb drug menace?

Last year, a Special Task Force (STF) was set up by the government to weed out frug the menace from the state. The STF, headed by ADGP Harpreet Singh Sidhu, was directed to work in coordination with the district police, GRP and other police units and supervise the registration and investigation of cases under the charter of STF.

Also, the force was also asked to recommend disciplinary action and/or criminal action against police and officials of other departments found involved in illegal activities related to drug trafficking. It was also assigned the task to collect technical/human intelligence and maintain surveillance in accordance with the existing provisions of law; plan and execute special operations against drug traffickers through special STF teams and also in association with other units of Punjab Police as well as other departments of the government, the spokesman said.

Steps to ensure enforcement of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, and all related criminal and civil laws in order to sever the drug supply lines by taking stringent action against suppliers, dealers and peddlers was the key agenda for the STF.

How many arrests were made so far?

DGP Suresh Arora, citing data related to arrests and seizures of drugs under the NDPS Act, said that there had been a sharp increase in the figures since the Captain Amarinder government took over. However, with an increased vigilance by Police, STF and aided by the BSF the Seizure of heroin had then gradually declined over a period of time. Navjot Singh Sidhu had also expressed concern at the public perception that the government had not succeeded in eliminating the drug menace.

Among all states and Union Territories, Punjab has the highest incidence rate for cases under the NDPS Act. According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) records, Punjab registered 5,906 such cases in 2016, which translates into an incidence rate of 20.2 per lakh population. In absolute numbers, Punjab’s count is the fourth highest among the states and UTs, and accounts for nearly 12% (a fraction behind Kerala, also 12%) of all NDPS cases in India. According to countrywide NCRB data for 2016, 22,086 police cases under the NDPS Act remained pending out of a total of 73,561, a pendency rate of 30%. In courts, the pendency rate nationwide was 81% — 1.62 lakh cases out of 1.99 lakh.

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