Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Posted at: Sep 17, 2019, 6:52 AM; last updated: Sep 17, 2019, 6:53 AM (IST)CAPT SARKAR: HALF-WAY MARK ANTI-DRUG CAMPAIGN

Fight against drugs on, but no decisive shot yet

As the government completes half of its five-year term, a review of its performance on various fronts

Jupinderjit Singh

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, September 16

The first half of the five-year term of the Capt Amarinder Singh government witnessed a multi-level campaign against the drug abuse and smuggling. While the enforcement agencies have been able to expose many layers of the network, a decisive blow needed to break the nexus between smugglers, officials and influential persons is yet to be witnessed.

New challenges in the form of smuggling of South American cocaine into the state, coupled with increasing attempts from across the border to push in heroin into Punjab and blatant misuse of pain killers like tramadol stare the government in the face.

The Congress, which had promised to end the drug menace within a month after taking over the reins of the state, had a hard time combating it as inter-department rivalry, including open confrontation between senior officials, derailed the process for a considerable time. The process led to shifting of first chief of the STF against drugs, Harpreet Sidhu, out of the force, but the government had to bring him back.

The Opposition parties have been regularly criticising the government for claiming success just by cracking down on small-time peddlers and addicts. They contend that only a few gangs have been busted, but the proverbial “big fish” among the smugglers is yet to be netted in.

ADGP Pramod Bhan, a spokesperson for the anti-drug STF disagrees. He says as per their parameters, any smuggler arrested with more than 3 kg of heroin is a big fish. “We have arrested about 175 such high-profile accused. The STF has been improvising its strategy based on new challenges. We have recently launched a 360 degree offensive against drug abuse. This includes enforcement, de-addiction and prevention. Nearly 5.27 lakh volunteers are taking part in the buddy system launched to help treatment of addicts and preventing their relapse into addiction. As many as 181 Out-Patient Opioid Assisted Treatment (OOAT) centres are functional to provide modern treatment to the addicts.

“The Union Government too now seems to have started actively participating in the fight against drugs. The Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) functioning under the Centre has increased its staff strength in Punjab from 40 to 120. It also posted a Deputy Director General level officer with a new unit in Amritsar. Earlier, it had one unit based in Chandigarh for all northern states.”

The STF also needs more staff on similar lines. However, it has less than 50 per cent of staff strength against the required force.

More recently, law enforcement agencies, including Punjab Police, STF, Border Security Force (BSF), Customs Department and the NCB, have joined hands to establish a platform for sharing information and conducting joint operations.

The grey area has been the investigation and protection of key accused or witnesses in NDPS cases. A perfect example of this is the case involving the recovery of 532 kg of heroin from the ICP at Wagah border. The gang included smugglers based in Kashmir as well. While one of the main accused Gurpinder Singh died under mysterious circumstances at an Amritsar jail, another, an SHO, allegedly killed himself at a police station when a team had gone there to arrest him. The case pertained to the biggest ever heroin seizure in Punjab, but the investigation was hampered by these mysterious deaths, with the kingpin remaining untraced.

Strategy and Action Plan

Daily monitoring of NDPS cases; identification of drug-hit villages; database of peddlers; Targets to cops for arrest of smugglers; listing of notorious chemists in towns and villages; helpline for information on drugs; joint ops with NCB, STF; detention of repeat offenders; e-prison software; forfeiture of property of smugglers.

We have achieved much on demand and supply front. The Centre is impressed with our efforts and has taken steps to adopt the ‘Punjab model’ in other states. But there are still some challenges for the state police.  Dinkar Gupta, DGP


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