CHANDIGARH — Congress leader Rahul Gandhi once caused a stir by claiming over 70 percent Punjab's youth were addicted to drugs. The party, which returned to power in March last year, had used every political trick to highlight the rampant drug abuse in the state during the campaign for the assembly polls. The issue has now returned to haunt its leaders.
With over 30 deaths linked to drug abuse being reported in June from different parts of Punjab, Chief Minister Amarinder Singh is facing an onslaught from the opposition Aam Aadmi Party and the Shiromani Akali Dal for his government's failure to curb the menace.
Before coming to power, Amarinder Singh had, in December 2015, publicly taken a religious pledge by holding a copy of the "Gutka Sahib,” a Sikh holy book, and saying that if he came to power, he would wipe out the scourge of drugs from Punjab within four weeks.
His Congress government is now over 15 months old, and has clearly failed to contain the drug menace.
Faced with criticism and pressure from the opposition, Amarinder hurriedly called a special meeting of his cabinet recently to address the issue.
However, other than making statements and claims, and passing the buck to the central government by suggesting stronger laws against drug peddlers and smugglers, the Amarinder government has failed to do enough to contain the drug problem, say opposition leaders.
Be it heroin or "Chitta" (a white powder drug), other lifestyle chemical drugs and opium, the supply chain has not been broken in Punjab despite the Amarinder government's claim that there has been a crackdown on those dealing in drugs.
The chief minister has, however, gone on record to claim that thousands of people linked to the drugs trade had been arrested.
"The intensive action plan unfolded and executed by us during the last over a year has resulted in arrest of 18,977 drug peddlers and treatment of more than two lakh drug victims," Amarinder said this week.
In a letter to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh last week, the chief minister pointed out that the existing Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, provides for death penalty for certain offences if these are committed for a second time.
"This means that a person can indulge in these nefarious activities and get away at least once, causing substantial damage to the youth and the society," Amarinder pointed out, adding that a harsher penalty for first-time offenders in drugs could be a deterrent to those indulging in this illegal activity.
For the past over two decades, the unholy nexus of the drug peddlers and smugglers with police officials and politicians has been alleged but it has not been broken.
The Congress and AAP leaders used to accuse an Akali Dal minister of being involved in the drugs racket. The drug trade in Punjab has also been linked to Non-Resident Indians and other countries.
Leader of Opposition and AAP leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira is not impressed by the statements being issued by the Amarinder government.
"The government is not doing anything concrete at the ground level. None of the so-called big fish in the drug trade have been arrested so far," Khaira pointed out.
The government started on a positive note last year by setting up a Special Task Force to deal with the drugs menace.
A year down the line, the STF finds its wings clipped and its chief, senior police officer Harpreet Singh Sidhu, is not being allowed to use his powers to get to the bottom of the drug trade.