Drugs, promises go hand in hand in Punjab: 51 weeks and counting

Chandigarh, March 13: A year before the elections in Punjab, Captain Amarinder Singh, after becoming the state Congress chief, resorted to a dramatic show of intent on the issue of drugs. He took an oath on the Gutka Sahib, a Sikh holy book, at Talwandi Sabo near Bathinda, that after becoming the chief minister he will wipe out the menace in four weeks. It’s been a little over 51 weeks since he took oath as chief minister.

In the latest, the CM has announced to launch a “multi-pronged” campaign for a drug-free Punjab from Khatkar Kalan, native village of Shaheed Bhagat Singh, on March 23, his martyrdom day.

In between, there has been a crackdown on the suppliers, but the big fish, many alleged to be part of the previous SAD-BJP regime, remain untouched. And no longer is the issue a dominant narrative of the state, even as it was a prime issue in the assembly polls.

The much-hyped special task force (STF) of the Punjab police was formed in the first cabinet meeting. Headed by additional director general of police (ADGP) Harpreet Sidhu, it has to its credit catching small suppliers, but that too amid allegations that addicts are being harassed.

The STF, which reports directly to the chief minister’s office, has come down hard on involvement of policemen in the drug trade, with arrest of more than 20 cops, but her too the ranks of those caught reflect how the much-talked-about big fish continue to remain out of the net. STF officials claim that in the past one year they registered a record 883 FIRs under the NDPS Act and arrested 1,185 people. Other wings of the police arrested more than 10,000 people for drug trade, says data provided by the government.

STF officials also say that with “whatever little” force that was provided, they have done their best. Besides an ADGP as head and a force of 1,000 designated to work with it, it has three IGs and 10 SSP-rank officers working as AIGs in it. However, as per many senior officials, one major thing that is hitting the CM’s special drive is the lack of co-ordination of STF with the rest of the police.

“There are ego issues between the STF officials and other wings. With a force of around 1,000, you cannot fight the drug menace unless and until you have a well-coordinated information-sharing with other police wings. That is missing. After all, the network of district police cannot be matched by the STF,” a retired ADGP said, on the condition of anonymity.

ADGP Sidhu did not reply to repeated calls and messages.

Shashi Kant, former DGP (jails), who has been vocal on the issue, says there has been only a marginal effect on availability of drugs. “Rates of drugs have increased due to the crackdown by police, but the ease of getting drugs for addicts is as it was.”

An IG-rank officer with the STF, not willing to be named, put it bluntly, “The crackdown needs strong intelligence inputs about suppliers, and supply lines can only be cut one by one. It’s a constant process and may take years. There is no magic wand available with anyone that can wipe out drugs from any state within four weeks.”

Source Hindustan Times