Punjab’s Rehab Racket: Where Taekwondo Champ Counsels Drug Addicts
In Depth: Private rehab centres that charge addicts ten times the amount govt centres do, found violating rules.
Computer applications graduate. Taekwondo black belt. But no degree in psychology. That’s the profile of a 'counsellor’ for heroin addicts at a private rehab and counselling centre in Punjab's Bathinda district.
Punjab has been battling a drug addiction crisis for a while now, and the government-sponsored Punjab Opiods Dependence Survey, published in 2016, reveals there are 3.2 lakh drug addicts who spend Rs 7,500 crore annually on opiods.
An investigation by The Quint into the state of private rehabilitation and counselling centres in Bathinda has revealed that four of the district’s five centres are functioning without the mandatory three-year, government-issued license. They also flout other vital government rules mentioned in the 2011 regulations. This includes admitting addicts who have not undergone detoxification. They also employ ‘counsellors’ without the minimum qualification for the job – an M. Phil or MA in Psychology, Sociology or social work.
Taking cognisance of The Quint’s report, Bathinda’s civil surgeon H N Singh, part of the five-member inspection team at the district-level said, “We have read the report and I will and am already speaking to psychiatrists in Bathinda. We will conduct inspections in the centres that have been named. I will comment on their status after that.”
Punjab Govt Reveals Not 4, But 20 Pvt Centres Are Unlicensed
Punjab’s Department of Health programme officer Sukhvinder Kaur conceded that around 25 private rehabilitation centres have their licenses pending for renewal since the SAB-BJP regime.
“This is because in the previous tenure, when the licenses were issued with the approval of the health minister, around 25 files were not signed. While, these centres are being repeatedly inspected their license has not been issued because government officials are refusing to sign off on long-pending licenses.”Programme officer, Sukhvinder Kaur said
Bathinda is a Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) stronghold. Former Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal's ancestral house is in Bathinda, and his daughter-in-law Harsimrat Kaur Badal is the local MP. Also, Bathinda is where Captain Amarinder Singh, during his Punjab 2017 Assembly election campaign, dramatically put his hand on the gutka (holy Sikh book) and pledged: “I’ll end the Punjab drug menace within four weeks of coming to power”.
Government rules say if a private rehabilitation and counselling centre fails to get its license renewed before its expiry, it is considered to have shut down – but in Bathinda, that barely holds true.
No License? No Problem! This is Bathinda
Anurag Dwivedi, founder of the Adarsh Foundation Rehabilitation and Counselling Centre in Bathinda’s Rampura Phaul area, says he set up shop in 2009, when the Punjab government had no rules for drug rehab centres. But after regulations were introduced in 2011, Dwivedi secured a license the following year, which expired in 2015.
For the last three years, Adarsh Foundation has been running without a valid license, with 25 beds, 17 of which are currently occupied. At Rs 10,000 for each bed, the centre makes Rs 2,50,000 every month at its maximum strength. The 32-year-old justifies the delay by saying, "We have been trying to get our license renewed. We wrote a letter in November 2017 as well," he said. The Quint was promised a copy of the letter, but it has not reached us yet.
When asked if they have a counsellor, Dwivedi says someone does come daily from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. When asked to be introduced, The Quint was told that the ‘counsellor’ was on leave.
Want to be an Addiction Counsellor? Earn a Black Belt in Taekwondo
Forty kilometers from Adarsh Foundation is the Better Life Centre on Badal Road where The Quint met a stout Gurudev Singh Randhawa, who calls himself Director of the centre. Randhawa, from Ferozpur district, has no medical degree, but says he’s worked in hospitals with doctors aiding them in ‘administrative work’ for over 15 years.
"Some people get license for one year, then it has to be renewed. Some get it for two years and some for three years. We got the license for two years and now we’ve given it for renewal," he says. Randhawa is wrong. All licenses are issued for three years, just like his centre was from 2014. It expired in July, 2017. When pointed out that his license was valid for three years, "haanji, haanji, haanji" is all he had to say.
Twenty-five-year-old Manpreet, who was a heroin addict and treated here, was counselled by 38-year-old Ajay Pal who says he has counselled many more like him for over a year. He has a degree in computer analytics and a black belt in taekwondo. Ajay says, “My father has a limousine service in America, and before I go there I wanted to do some seva (charity) as a noble cause to impress my father". But shockingly, this ‘counsellor’ has no degree in psychology or any field related to drug rehabilitation.
Ajay says he applied for a license renewal in June 2017, a month before it expired. But the date on the application letter accessed by The Quint bears a December 2017 date stamp.
On CCTV cameras inside Gurudev’s office, we see mattresses stacked in a hall. He confirms that all his 20 patients sleep in the hall. He charges each patient Rs15,000 per month, pocketing Rs 3 lakh from the 20 patients currently staying there. When asked why no beds, Gurudev says, "Some sleep on mattresses and some prefer to sleep on mats laid on the floor of the hall".
Addicts Pay 10x at Private Rehabs
The same story comes to the fore 30 kilometers away at Jiwan Jyot Centre in Talwandi Sabo. Gurmeet Singh, who has been running the centre since 2007, says the license ran out in July 2017. Singh does not let us into the facility, but boasts of ‘high-profile’ patients. "Many officer's kids, two children of judges, one American patient and four from Canada have been treated here," he says.
He says he is doing this for seva (charity). A drug addict himself until a few years back, Singh says his father's pension and money sent by his sister from Canada, helped fund the centre.
Government rehabilitation and counselling centres charge Rs 1,500 a month, while private centres charge between Rs 8,000-15,000 per month. But many pay more to stay anonymous. “Drug addicts don’t want to be recognised, they are embarrassed and so are their families. Private centres grant them privacy,” Arun Bansal, MD Psychiatry, Bathinda Civil Hospital told The Quint.
When asked to explain the licence renewal delay, he says: "In July, 2017 I applied for renewal. The file has not reached the district administration from Chandigarh yet." No one from the district administration has come in for inspection, he adds.
However, when The Quint cross-verified his claim with a government official, we were told that an inspection had been conducted. "An inspection was carried out at this centre but the recommendation was NOT to renew their license. There were concerns about the staff, the detoxification process and cleanliness inside," the officer said on condition of anonymity.
‘Govt Officials Tell Us & Then Come to Inspect’
The U-turn Rehabilitation Centre at Bibiwala road is also running without a valid license. The centre's license expired in June 2018.
Owner Rahul Sharma promised to send The Quint a copy of the renewal application letter. Despite two visits and repeated reminders, he finally ended up refusing to send us a copy, saying it was ‘personal business’. An official at Bathinda's district administration claims they have not received a file for renewal of license from U-turn Centre yet.
In a surprising revelation, Sharma says, "They call and tell us they are coming for an inspection."
The Quint spoke to an official directly involved in the licensing process in Chandigarh who said, "These rehabilitation centre guys have a deal with lower level clerks. They get to know when inspectors are going to show up."
The Quint met Additional Chief Secretary Health, Satish Chandra, and Programme Officer Sukhvinder Kaur in Chandigarh to ask how long the process of license renewal takes. Kaur said, "From receipt of the application to issuing of the license, it takes two to three months."
When asked why then have these centres not received their license for over a year, Kaur said, "Sometimes we issue an inspection note but the report reaches us six months later. The inspection team includes the deputy commissioner and other officials. So, it has to be managed as per every person's schedule."
Rehabs DO NOT Detox, But in Bathinda Sab ChaIta Hai
The Punjab government 2011 regulations state, “No patient/client shall be admitted to rehabilitation centre till he has undergone detoxification from a recognised centre.” However, all four centres flout this rule as they also detoxify the patients they are meant to be counselling – by referring them to psychiatrists at private hospitals.
Abhishek (name changed), is a former drug addict who visited Adarsh Foundation for treatment. He says he did not undergo detoxification, "I didn't visit a government de-addiction centre or an OPD before coming here. I was medicated here [at Adarsh Foundation]".
Gurnaam Singh had a similar experience. The farmer said he came to the Jeevan Jyot centre in Talwandi Sabo in 2017, without visiting any other centre. Another former patient Manpreet, who was admitted till recently at the Better Life Centre, was also detoxified after he came to the counselling centre.
On our second visit to U-turn Rehab Centre, Rahul Sharma was not around. The Programme Officer said, "A new patient came a few days ago and is very unwell. He is vomiting, so Rahul is taking care of that." De-addiction centres, by law must have a psychiatrist for a minimum four hours a day, but this isn’t a compulsion at rehab centres. If an addict skips detox and is directly brought to a rehab centre, he may have severe withdrawal symptoms, and other problems which need expert medical intervention.
Gurudev, who runs Better Life centre, told The Quint, "First the patient comes to us. He rests for two-three days. If there is an emergency we take him to the nearby Bharat Hospital." Again, what Gurudev describes is what should NOT happen at any rehab centre. The addict needs to first be medically detoxified under medical supervision and then brought here for rehab.
When a drug addict and his family spend upto ten times the amount for rehabilitation at a private centre, the bare minimum government agencies can do is to provide him what has been promised. The centres have to follow rules and the licensing authority needs to ensure its implementation.
While political parties have introduced a string of new measures in their bid to show they’re working on tackling the drug menace in Punjab, the implementation is at its worst.
(This story has been updated to reflect Bathinda civil surgeon H N Singh’s comment and Punjab’s Department of Health programme officer Sukhvinder Kaur’s remarks.)
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