‘We must not allow other people’s perceptions to define us,” said the American writer, Virginia Satir.
Reputations are built after years of hard work, but nefarious designs by a few can spoil them. Punjab is known for its patriotic people, contributions to the country’s food security and armed forces, and rich cultural legacy. But in the last decade, the state has been projected as the drug capital of India, and the people as addicts. There is no denying that Punjab has a drug problem, but it is being blown out of proportion, and the geographical roots of the issue are being deliberately ignored. The way the issue has been portrayed on the silver screen has also damaged the state’s reputation.
As per the National Crime Records Bureau, there are more than 100 million drug users in India, and the consumption rate of various narcotics substances has seen a 70% increase in the last eight years. In 2021, the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre identified 272 districts with a high rate of drug abuse. It categorised states such as Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh with an increased incidence of drug abuse among those above 40, whereas Mizoram, Jammu and Kashmir and Nagaland were categorised as states with a large number of young drug abusers (with ages below 20). Substance abuse, from expensive and sophisticated drugs in cities to cough syrup in rural India, is a matter of concern. Drug abuse is a national problem, and we must find solutions by addressing its root causes. The vilification of a particular state and its people may help accrue petty political dividends but will not solve the problem.
Punjab shares a 550-km border with Pakistan, out of which 50 km is a riverine area, a preferred route for drug smuggling. The first line of defence in these areas is the Border Security Force (BSF). BSF’s intensive monitoring, including drones over rivers, canals and drains, can reduce such smuggling. However, recent raids in several ports of the country and the recovery of vast quantities of drugs have established long-standing claims of Punjab Police that its neighbouring states are the new hotspots for smuggling illegal substances into Punjab.
A check on the smuggling of drugs through the Golden Crescent — the clandestine land routes of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran — will be a practical step to controlling drugs into the country. Vulnerable points on the nation’s coastline must be identified and plugged to break the supply chain of drugs into India.
Without sensitisation programmes, productive opportunities for engaging young people and the involvement of community leaders, we may not achieve desired results. The initiatives of the Aam Aadmi Party government in Punjab — regularisation of contractual jobs, new job opportunities for the young (more than 20,000 new jobs have been offered so far), and development of education and health infrastructure with equitable access to all sections of society — are positive interventions that could stop young people from indulging in nefarious activities. The state police have been given a free hand to crack down on drug mafias.
But the state government needs support from the Centre to prevent cross-border drug terrorism and mobilise resources to further accelerate development. Development, job creation, and regular sensitisation will wean the young away from drugs. Recently, a rally was organised in Sangrur as part of a campaign against drugs, and this was appreciated as a step in the right direction. More such rallies and awareness programmes are needed at regular intervals.
Another key step would be to involve community leaders and influencers in anti-drug campaigns. Navchetna modules (designed to sensitise school students and their parents to drug dependence and related issues) launched in the National Conference on Drug Trafficking and National Security should be implemented in letter and spirit so that children can be made aware of their rights and strategies to escape the drug net. The drug abuse problem can only be addressed by extensive cooperation, and exchange of information and expertise between the Centre and the states, and among the states.
Harbhajan Singh is Member of Parliament (Rajya Sabha)
The views expressed are personal