By Gaurav Dixit*
The international community has fought two simultaneous wars in Afghanistan since 2001- one against the insurgent groups, and second against the rapid growth of opium cultivation. In spite of spending more than 8 billion USD and losing thousands of lives to bring down the increasing opium cultivation and production, the production has increased 35 times since US invasion in 2001. In 2015, Afghanistan alone supplied the world with 90 percent of the heroin, an opium derivative.
Though the bulk of the opium drugs are destined to reach Europe and America through Iran and Central Asia, a substantial amount of the heroine gets smuggled to India via Pakistan. The Afghan heroin that reaches Pakistan is primarily for the domestic market. But besides supplying for local consumption, large quantities of drugs are destined to India through Punjab, Kashmir, Rajasthan and Gujarat. The rise in demand in states like Punjab has increased heroin smuggling from across the border.
The terrible condition of Punjab can be gauged from the fact that almost 0.84% of Punjab’s population is opioid – opium derivatives—dependent. In a population of around 2.77 crore people, there are more than 2.23 lakh opioid-dependent people. While most of the heroin in Punjab comes from Afghanistan via Pakistan, poppy husk and chemical drugs come from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
A new study conducted by the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre (NDDTC) at AIIMS found that opioids worth Rs 7,500 crore are consumed in Punjab every year; of these heroin alone constitute a massive Rs 6,500 crore.
The data on the extent, pattern and trends of drug abuse in India are incomprehensive and at times erroneous and unreliable, yet some of the recent studies in Punjab have highlighted the growing extent and pattern of drug abuse. The first ever study of its kind in Punjab called “Punjab Opioid Dependence Survey (PODS)” offers an approximation of size of opioid dependent population in Punjab.
The survey was conducted in 10 districts in the state. It presents a grim profile of the drug abusers- about 76% opioid-dependent individuals in Punjab are in the age group of 18 to 35 years. 89% of them are literate and have some degree of formal education and almost all of them are employed.
The most dangerous finding of the survey was the percentage of drug intake through the injecting route. About one-third take their opioid drugs through the injecting route. The sharing of injection equipment among drug users contributes significantly to the spread of the HIV epidemic and represents one of the highest risks of HIV transmission in India. A recent sentinel surveillance finding of NACO suggests Punjab facing rising trend from previously moderate/low prevalence of HIV.
In the first two weeks of January in 2016, Punjab Police arrested 5 people, including two BSF constables on charge of drug smuggling. One of the BSF constables later admitted that he had been receiving money from a well known Lahore-based drug smuggler by the name of Imtiaz. He was involved in helping a cartel of drugs and arms smugglers infiltrate heroin and weapons into India. It is alleged that the terrorists who attacked Pathankot air base may have entered India taking the drug route assisted by a drugs racket.
The Punjab border areas have posed a great challenge for the security personnel to stop smugglers from secretly importing drugs, FICN and arms. In October 2015, BSF submitted a report to the UMHA on the Narco trafficking in Punjab from across the border. The report detailed the sober condition of drug abuse in Punjab.
Available data suggests between 2010 and 2014, the BSF seized 367 kilograms of heroin and 119 arms. However considering the extent and magnitude of number and cases of drug abuse in Punjab, the seizure seems to be a negligible percentage of total quantity of drugs smuggled from across the border.
Many officials from Punjab have in the past demanded NIA probe into links between drug smugglers and politicians. The prominent among them is former ADGP (intelligence) Shashi Kant, who has claimed that politicians across the spectrum are directly and indirectly involved in drug smuggling. Recently, Wrestler-turned-drug peddler Jagdish Singh Bhola claimed that Bikram Singh Majithia, Punjab’s Revenue Minister was also involved in the multi- crore drug trafficking racket. Another arrested drug lord has named few of the top rank police officials involved in drug smuggling.
The increasing opioid problem has become a menace in the state of Punjab. The outbreak did not happen overnight and is a result of decades of political and institutional negligence. The rise in cases of drug dependents suggests that the state government and its institutions have failed to take necessary steps to curb the growing threat of drugs.
The high percentage of youths trapped in drug abuse is detrimental to both economic growth and social fabric of the state. The rising cases of crime are also related to drugs, where lack of money is forcing youths to commit crimes. Decline in agricultural productivity and large scale unemployment is only exacerbating woes and deepening the crisis.
*Gaurav Dixit is an independent analyst working on strategic issues concerning India. He can be reached at: [email protected]