Punjab, a place which has been sanctified with the blessings of the ten Sikh Gurus and by the countless valiant warriors who have protected Hindus for generations, is crying out in agony today. The state which is known for its lush green farms, rivers and sheer beauty is now gaining notoriety for illicit drug abuse. Punjab has a history of use of narcotics as landowners gave raw opium to labourers so they would work harder. In the last three decades drug usage has become rife in Punjab as it has become a major transit route for the narcotics produced in the Golden Crescent Region (one of Asia’s two principal areas of illicit opium production – the Golden Crescent (the other being the Golden Triangle) is the name given to the area located at the crossroads of Central, South, and Western Asia.)1
Punjab became a major route for drug trafficking with the rise of the Sikh militancy in the state. Militants often used trade in narcotics to fund their arms and training. As a result of ready availability, disenchanted youth, the main conscripts for the militants, turned to drugs to escape intolerable psychological conditions. During the 1980s, the most favoured route for trafficking was the Lahore-Fazilka-Bhatinda-Delhi route. Another frequently used route was the Attari-Wagah route. This route is still being exploited for trafficking drugs. The Samjhauta Express is alleged to have become a major carrier of illicit drugs from across the border. Consequently, Amritsar has emerged as a major centre for heroin trade in Punjab. The border towns of Ajnala and Gurdaspur have also become prominent heroin collection centres. Agricultural land across the fence, a good network of roads and rails right up to the borders, all facilitate trafficking of drugs in these sectors.2 In the late 1980s, India began erecting a fence along its border with Pakistan that is now so brightly lit that it is clearly visible from space. But smugglers slip across at points where the fence is weak or interrupted by rivers. Attempts to tighten border security have driven up the prices of heroin coming from the other side of the border and forced local users toward over-the-counter pharmaceuticals that produce a similar euphoric high.3 According to a report from Daily Mail, heroin is brought from Afghanistan at Rs.1 lakh a kg, passing through Pakistan it is smuggled into Punjab and sold for Rs. 30 lakh a kg. From Punjab it is sold to rest of India for Rs. 1 crore a kg.4
Recently, a survey was conducted by Society for Promotion of Youth and Masses in collaboration with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) which reveals the crude reality of the drug smuggling scenario in Punjab. According to this report opioids (opioids have similar properties to the opium from which they are derived) worth Rs. 7,500 crore are consumed by the state every year, and heroin constitutes a whopping Rs. 6,500 crore.5 The extent of drug addiction in Punjab is alarming. Near border areas the rate of heroin abuse among 15 to 25 year olds is as high as 75% – the percentage is 73% in other rural areas throughout the region. A Department of Social Security Development of Women and Children suggested that as many as 67% of rural households in Punjab have at least one drug addict in the family. There is at least one death due to drug overdose each week in the region.6 The huge profits involved and the reprehensible nature of the trade has encouraged extensive corruption among the local law enforcement and politicians. Indeed the terrorist attack on the airbase in Pathankot not so many days ago was allegedly facilitated by police officers initially turning a blind eye to the intruders, mistaking them for drug traffickers. Election officials seized more than 100 pounds of heroin that they said party workers intended to distribute to voters before state elections in January 2012. Giving out alcohol to bribe potential constituents is relatively common in India, but the plan to distribute heroin was unique to Punjab.7
Drugs are ruining the youth of Punjab and are a blight on her future. It’s on record that thousands of families have lost their sons to the trade or to drug abuse, but the politicians are ignoring the issue for their own purposes. Police investigations have uncovered links between political leaders, businessmen and drug smugglers. And now, with the elections scheduled for next year, politicians have started to make huge promises in their rallies e.g. when former chief minister captain Amarinder Singh held a rally in Bathinda in December 2015, he vowed to wipe out the drug menace within four weeks of a Congress win. This promise clearly echoed the tone set by the AAP party in the 2014 Lok Sabha when AAP surprisingly won four Lok Sabha seats in Punjab primarily on the basis of its vow to address the drug menace and now all the parties have joined the bandwagon.
Now, that the drug menace of Punjab is in spotlight and the elections just around the corner, 2017 could be a decisive year in the war against drugs. Voters have been convinced that the present Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)-BJP leadership cannot deliver anything except disaster, especially if the Badals remain in power. The Congress has already lost its image due to various corruption charges and looking at performance of AAP in Delhi, not much can be expected from them either. What remains is the BJP but if it dissolves the alliance with the SAD then, on its own, chances of winning the assembly elections are meagre. So, it is up to the voters who they choose and if a wrong government gets elected, something most likely, then the drug menace is likely to assume greater proportions.