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Thursday, June 30, 2022

War on drugs drags, politics on it rages on

As SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia joined the latest SIT investigation in the drugs case on Wednesday, the Punjab and Haryana High Court in a separate matter issued a notice to the state Election Commission seeking its response on ensuring a ‘drugs free election’.

What both developments, barely hours apart, underscored was that the state’s rampant narcotics problem continues to loom large over its politics despite frequent promises of a clean-up.

Even while struggling to make neighbourhoods narcotics-free, one thing that Punjab’s unending war on drugs has undeniably achieved is evermore sharp political rhetoric on the matter.

In the current poll season, the matter was again pushed to the front-burner by the Congress that booked SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia under the NDPS Act on December 20 last year and threatened to arrest him.

While an interim bail from the High Court on January 10 brought relief to the SAD leader, it gave enough ammunition to Congress’ political opponents to gun for the Charanjit Singh Channi government’s ‘lack of courage’ in putting Majithia behind bars.

Capt’s promise and initiatives
It was during the 2017 poll campaign that Capt Amarinder Singh tilted the political scales in Congress’ favour with a pre-poll promise to wipe the menace in four weeks and took a vow of the holy Gutka Sahib.
But despite his government’s initiatives, the opposition remained critical of the Congress government on the issue. Amarinder, who had to unceremoniously quit as CM in September last year, was under attack on the matter not only from his opponents, but also his colleagues.

After he became CM, Amarinder was quick to constitute an anti-drug Special Task Force (STF). The STF under ADGP Harpreet Singh Sidhu introduced initiatives like drug abuse prevention officers and buddy programmer as part of government’s three pronged strategy of enforcement, de-addiction and prevention (EDP), apart from Outpatient Opioid Assisted Treatment (OOAT) centres across the state.
By September last year, over 7 lakh patients were registered for treatment where opioid dependent people are administered de-addiction medicine, a combination of buprenorphine and naloxone. There were 202 government-run OOAT centres, including 11 in jails, set up where medicine was given free-of-cost. In addition, the state has over 50 government and more than 200 private de-addiction and rehabilitation centres.

The buddy programme was introduced to form group of five classmates in educational institutions to prevent the vulnerable adolescents from falling into the trap of drugs. More than 43 lakh students enrolled for the scheme. Further, the drug abuse prevention officers were supposed to raise awareness and identify users, high-risk people and vulnerable sections. DAPOs were categorised into two – official volunteer (OV) and citizen volunteer (CV). As per the recent data, 6.28 lakh drug abuse prevention officers (DAPO) have already contacted over 11.33 lakh people to make them aware of ill effects of drugs and provided literature on the subject.

The case against Bikram Majithia
But while separate initiatives ad probes in various drugs cases have continued, political parties have often trained their guns on Majithia while accusing him of having links with drug racket kingpins. It is an allegation that both Majithia and SAD have denied.

The case against Majithia was registered on the directions of then officiating Punjab DGP Sidhharth Chattopadhyaya and on the basis of the STF’s 2018 report. The STF probe was further based on the money laundering investigations carried out by the ED into a set of drug cases from the end of 2013 to 2016.
Majithia is alleged to have had an association with those involved in a multi-crore drug scam with dismissed Punjab Police DSP and Arjuna awardee Jagdish Bhola as a kingpin.
In February 2019, Bhola was sentenced in three cases – 12 years in one, ten years in another and two years in the third case. He was acquitted in other three cases.

Also, 23 of the 54 accused named in the FIR against Bhola were also sentenced after being held guilty under various offences.

These cases were registered during the erstwhile SAD-BJP alliance government in which Majithia was a Cabinet minister.

Over five years later, Majithia is out of power but still at the Centre of political attacks over the narcotics issue. While nothing has been proved in the court of law so far, the allegations cost the SAD heavily in 2017 polls as the party was reduced to its worst every performance in the Assembly with just 15 MLAs.

Even as spotlight has returned to Majithia before the present polls, Congress continues to face criticism for being soft on him and SAD continues to cry vendetta politics. Former CM Amarinder Singh termed it “wrong parcha” registered due to “vendetta”, while PPCC chief Navjot Singh Sidhu termed the registration of case against Majithia as first step ensure justice in the cases of drug menace.
And while the police cases drag and evidence of drugs still being freely peddled in villages continue to surface, the political parties are once again busy trying to out-do each other in promises of a post-poll clean-up.

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