Drug Abuse: Is Himachal Pradesh Becoming the New ‘Udta’ Punjab?
Image used for representational purposes.
Image used for representational purposes.(Photo: Aroop Mishra / The Quint)

Drug Abuse: Is Himachal Pradesh Becoming the New ‘Udta’ Punjab?

In eleven months, Himachal Pradesh has seen half a dozen mysterious deaths, mainly in the age group of 22-27, suspected to be cases of drug overdose.

During this time, the state has also witnessed a record 1,462 arrests, including that of foreign nationals. Moreover, huge amounts of charas, cocaine, heroin, smack, and the latest addition in the list of banned narcotics – ‘chitta’ – a fine powdery substance – have been seized from suspected drug peddlers in these 11 months.

All this, and Himachal Pradesh is apparently a ‘peaceful’ state.

State Cabinet Introduces Amendment to Narcotics Act

These drug-related incidents are just the tip of the iceberg. One realizes the full purport of these cases with Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur’s admission that drug abuse is the greatest challenge before the hill state, 35 percent of whose population comprises the youth.

A recent medical study revealed that 40 percent of these youths are addicted to drugs and alcohol. The number of addicts is on the rise, which is a matter of concern to the parents and guardians of these adolescents.

Realising the gravity of the situation, the state cabinet, which met under Jai Ram Thakur on Friday, 30 November, decided to introduce an amendment in the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (Himachal Pradesh Amendment Bill), 2018 to make the offence non-bailable. A person arrested under the NDPS Act for drug trafficking or smuggling of narcotics, won’t get bail. Not only the ruling dispensation, even the main opposition in the state – the Congress party – has been pressing to make all offences under the NDPS Act non-bailable.

“We welcome the state government’s move to make the offence non-bailable. This was our party’s demand too, as drug abuse may spell doom for the younger population in the state, ” PCC President Sukhwinder Sukhu said.

In July 2018, the High Court had also expressed its concern to the government about the menace of drug abuse among youth, and advised the framing of a concrete policy to deal with this.

Also Read : Himachal youth falling prey to drug abuse

Biggest Challenge Before Himachal Govt

“This Court cannot lose sight of the fact that today, drug abuse is one of the most serious problems in society. Drug abuse is the illicit, non-medical use of a limited number of substances, which have the properties of altering the mental state of a being in ways that are considered by social norms, and defined by statute, as inappropriate, undesirable, harmful and threatening to the life of the user,” wrote a bench headed by the then Acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol – now Chief Justice of Tripura High Court – while dealing with a PIL on the issue .

Apart from the capital city Shimla (which has the largest number of school and college-going youths), districts like Kullu (known for its cannabis), Kangra, Una, Bilaspur, Solan and Sirmour are in the grips of drug abuse, because of their proximity to Punjab – where drug abuse has spelled doom for several families.

“Shimla is much worse, where 54 percent boys and 24 percent girls have become addicted to drugs or other intoxicants,” another study done by Shimla’s Indira Gandhi Medical College (IGMC) reveals.

Also Read : Rising drug addiction in Himachal matter of concern: Governor

Dangerous ‘Chitta’ Makes its Way to Himachal

What has alarmed the law enforcing agencies most is the introduction of ‘chitta’ into the state, from Punjab. ‘Chitta’, says O P Sharma, a former Narcotics Control Bureau officer, is primarily an extract of opium, laced with synthetic drugs, which is a far more dangerous drug than charas or opium. A person, even one who hasn’t touched drugs before, who sniffs ‘chitta’ for six to seven days, is bound to become an addict, he says.

Even the chief minister believes that after Punjab enacted a stringent law to deal with drug smuggling and trafficking, Himachal Pradesh has opened up as a new market for the drug trade.

Lest this go out of hand, a strong stance needs to be taken, and now. Thus, he chose to mobilise the support of three chief ministers, namely that of Punjab , Haryana, and Uttarakhand, for a common strategy to wipe out the problem and set-up an inter-state task force, apart from enacting a new bill to insert some new sections in the existing NDPS Act .

Traditionally, Himachal Pradesh has been (in)famous for producing world-famous marijuana and charas in Kullu ,which has already turned into a global hub of this illegal trade. Now, the districts of Mandi, Chamba, Kangra,Una and Shimla have also been affected because of the entry of synthetic drugs into the hill state from across the state border.

Punjab Border Thriving With Drug Peddling

“Drug peddlers have found new ground in Himachal Pradesh. Districts bordering Punjab have become easy targets to influence youths and turn them into addicts. We are seeking the cooperation of NGOs, panchayats, mahila mandals, and also parents, to thwart the agenda of these drug peddlers,” says the chief minister.

In Una, a district sharing borders with Punjab, two youths between the age of 17-24, died of chitta overdose in June-July 2018. Prior to this incident, similar deaths were reported in Shimla and Sirmaur.

The parents of the deceased chose to conceal the reason for their wards’ deaths from the police. However, in November this year, when a 27-year-old youth died of drug overdose, the police promptly registered an FIR, resulting in the arrest of a woman who had sold the drug to four youths; of them, one had died.

The police in Shimla, have been frequently raiding known hide-outs, where school and college-goers are seen consuming drugs. Many shop vendors, small dhabas and tea vendors (located next to these educational institutions), have also been found selling drugs to youths, but the police have often turned a blind eye.

Drug Peddlers Close to Power Nexus

Intelligence reports suggest that these drug peddlers often enjoy the patronage of politicians, police and influential persons. “There is a need for a holistic approach to deal with the problem of drug abuse. Parents too must accept reality and not hush up matters if their child is found to be an addict. Many parents try to conceal it due to social stigma. There have been studies in the US which have found drug addiction to be a disease, and it’s treated accordingly,” says Daizy Verma , Assistant Professor of English, Himachal Pradesh University .

Shubra Tiwari, SP (Narcotics control Bureau) claims the police didn’t have data on drug overdose deaths, as the parents never disclosed these.

“The figures of drugs seizure and arrests definitely reflects the gravity of the problem in the state, which the state government wants to deal with effectively, both on the law enforcement front and social awareness as a preventive and curative move,” said Tiwari.

(The writer is ex-Bureau Chief, Himachal Pradesh, Indian Express. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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