Punjab is a state with great potential but its development has been held back due to several socio-political and economic problems that the people have been suffering. In the 80s, it was the Khalistan movement that stifled development in the state but ever since that problem died down, abuse of alcohol and drugs has spread all over the state, afflicting men and women belonging to all social segments and age groups.
The menace of illegal drug abuse is particularly worrying as this has emerged as a serious problem amongst both, the urban and rural youth. Earlier, popular tourist destinations like Kullu-Manali and Goa were seen as major destinations for drug availability and consumption but Punjab has now overtaken these places to emerge as one of the largest illegal drug consuming state.
Tarn Taran district has the highest number of reported drug users in rural areas, while Amritsar is highest among urban areas of Punjab. Over 75% of drug abusers in border areas belong to the 15-25 year age group while the rest belong to the 35-60 years.
Over the years, the drug mafia has expanded its influence and has patronage from certain sections of politicians, police and bureaucrats, all of whom are collaborating for a share of the highly profitable business.
Trading in illicit drugs has become deeply entrenched where young school boys, some as young as twelve, are dealing in drugs. Everyone along the supply chain profits from the trade, except the government which does not earn anything as more people become addicted to drug abuse. Illegal drugs available include heroin, opium, cocaine, marijuana, hashish, ganja, and methamphetamines.
The profitable trail
The reason why this illegal business is thriving is mainly on account of inadequate checks and pressure along the supply chain and because the profits far outweigh the risks. 1 kilogram of heroin smuggled from Afghanistan into Pakistan sells for around Rs 1 lakh. This then travels to India through Punjab and is sold for Rs 30-35 lakh per kilogram. The drug then is sold to other parts of India for Rs 1 crore per kilogram and is then further sold to other countries for Rs 4-5 crore per kilogram.
Punjab is both a transit state and a destination for all varieties of drugs and it’s the people who are paying a heavy price by feeding into this profitable supply chain.
As per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) Report 2014, registered cases under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act 1985 (NDPS Act), has seen a steady increase across India.
In 2014, 46,923 cases were registered in India, marking an increase of 70% over 2004. Punjab’s share of the above was 14,483, thus recording the second highest number of reported incidences under NDPS Act after Maharashtra, which recorded 14,622 cases. However, given the wide spread use, it is very likely that Punjab has the largest number of illegal drug consumers.
Business as usual – as newer routes emerge
It is well known that the porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan has been a major transit point for arms and drugs smuggling. Since Punjab shares a large border with Pakistan, it has a history of arms smuggling in the 80s that has now transitioned into smuggling of drugs. As more people have become addicted, the demand has attracted smugglers to step up supply to the state.
Earlier, high value drugs like heroin and cocaine were entering Punjab from Pakistan, and after meeting local demand, would be further transported to popular tourist destinations like Kullu-Manali and Goa.
Both the state and central government have been aware of the problem and have been struggling to control and block the entry of drugs into the country.
In the backdrop of increased cross-border terror attacks on Indian soil, Indian paramilitary forces along with Punjab Police, have stepped up vigil along the border which has resulted in stifling the flow of drugs from Pakistan.
But the well-entrenched drug mafia has opened up newer routes of supply. In the East, drugs have been entering India from Myanmar and Bangladesh for consumption in India and for further movement to other countries.
Rajasthan – the new transit state
With supply through the Indo-Pak border becoming difficult, drugs are now making their way into Punjab through various alternate land and rail routes. Rajasthan is fast emerging as a transit state for drugs entering Punjab.
Besides international drugs smuggled into India, Madhya Pradesh is a major source for illegally grown and processed drugs with Neemuch and Mandsaur emerging as major supply points. MP is India’s largest grower of legally sanctioned opium, the base crop from which heroin is derived. Besides opium, Marijuana is also grown and has a significant demand. Unfortunately, a significant amount of opium and marijuana grown illegally, ultimately winds up in Punjab through Rajasthan, which is now a major transit state.
Recently, Ajmer Police arrested three people for possessing 80 kilograms of opium with an estimated value of Rs 2 lakh. Interrogation revealed that the consignment had come from MP and was on its way to Punjab by road through Chittorgarh.
The Government Railway Police too has had some success in confiscating drugs that were being transported through trains. In March alone, GRP has seized 132 kilograms of marijuana and 12 kilograms of opium. But this is only a small fraction of what makes it to Punjab. Heroin seizures in Punjab have increased over 50 times over the past 10 years which is an indicator of increasing local demand.
Time to walk the talk
The business of illegal drugs trade has become well entrenched in Punjab and its time the state government worked more proactively with the central government in not just blocking transit points but by stepping up the pressure to arrest and punish all those associated with the trade, irrespective of the positions they hold.
It’s time for the people of Punjab to rise up and say ‘enough is enough’.