For a state that doesn’t even have a policy to regulate private drug de-addiction and rehabilitation centres, Himachal Pradesh on Friday took a big leap with its bid to do away with the distinction between a drug user and a drug peddler. At a time when the world is starting to move away from Nixon’s 1970s concept of “war on drugs” and looking at addicts with compassion, the Himachal Pradesh assembly cleared the stringent Narcotic Drugs And Psychotropic Substances (Himachal Pradesh Amendment) Bill, 2018. In chief minister Jai Ram Thakur’s own words, it was done “to send a strong message”.
The proposed law, which will be sent to the President for a final approval, neither differentiates between various types of narcotics, which experts and even politicians like Punjab CM Amarinder Singh and AAP MP Dharamvira Gandhi have said is the need of the hour, nor cares how much of contraband one is caught with. The idea is clear — instant jail and no bail, thereafter.
Before implementing such measures, the BJP government in Himachal should first take a look at its neighbour Punjab. A massive police crackdown was started in Punjab as a kneejerk reaction of SAD-BJP government after drug menace became a major poll issue in 2014. So far, Punjab has registered more than 40,000 cases under the NDPS Act, and thrown around 50,000 people behind bars. All that has not made the problem go away.
What’s more, over 60% of those arrested were carrying non-commercial quantities, Punjab Police’s own data has shown. A stark reminder of why the issue of volume of drug seized is inherent in the original NDPS Act.
Those closely involved in de-addiction and rehabilitation efforts in Punjab have started talking about making better use of discretionary powers given to the police under the Act to directly send a person for de-addiction process, instead of prison, if s/he is arrested with quantity that’s justifiably for personal use. The matter has been discussed at length in the Punjab and Haryana high court too. Changing direction, Punjab is now focusing more on awareness campaigns and rehabilitating its addicts.
It will be a pity if the states do not share experiences and learning, despite the chief ministers and top officials of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Chandigarh having recently met to discuss how to tackle the problem together.
As a side note, Haryana, which has started exercises like ‘Prabal Prahar’ in border district of Sirsa with excessive police zeal to register cases indiscriminately, too can benefit from these insights. Our leaders believe that voters do not understand the nuances of a problem even as politicians do, albeit refuse to act on them for the fear of losing electoral count.
Another thing that Himachal needs to keep in focus is that while heroin is the main problem in Punjab, in the hilly state it is still non-synthetic charas, obtained through simple processing of cannabis plant leaves. CM Thakur recently told the assembly that 443 kg charas, 7kg opium, and 1,097 injections were seized in the state since his government came to power almost a year ago. The number of total NDPS cases may cross the figure of 1,300 cases this year.
It’s not that the lawmakers are not aware of the ground reality. During the discussion on the bill in the assembly, MLAs from either side united to say that they wanted harsher action in cases involving chitta (heroin). They also talked about traditional use of ‘bhang’, which also comes from cannabis. Yet, the proposed law makes no such differentiation.
MLAs from both the treasury and the opposition benches did say that state jails would start spilling over and lives of youngsters would be destroyed due to minor slips if the proposed law was enacted. Then they passed the bill.
In its urge to lose the drug tourism destination tag, the state is ignoring its huge tribal population, slow growth of industry and heavy dependency on apple crop despite rapidly reducing productivity.
Arjuna-like focus on votes is hardly an excuse for having the discerning intelligence and not benefiting from it. One can only hope that the Centre or the President would stop all the lives from being destroyed that HP MLAs talked about, but refused to lift a finger to protect.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.
via TOI Blog
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