Any problem has twosides: While causative factors constitute the core not readily discernible, the effect is at the front end of the problem, clearly visible and demanding immediate attention.
Narcotics abuse is one such problem which is like the proverbial weather everyone talks about but seldom does anything. The problem is made complicated with multiple agencies given responsibility on various aspects of drug control.
The money that is involved in narcotics trade is huge and terrorist organisations manipulate drug trade to source funds for their operations. Narcotics, the arms cartel and terrorism complement each other and the nexus is difficult to gauge and too intertwined to break.
India is a transit route for international drug trafficking due to our porous border with Nepal, Burma and Pakistan. India is flanked by the Golden Crescent on the west, comprising Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, and the Golden Triangle on the east with Burma, Thailand and Vietnam forming the triangle.
India is recognised by the UN agency as one of the countries legitimately growing opium for medicinal purposes. The licit growth of poppy husk is confined to three States, namely Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. Farmers have to report the amount of yield and its sale but invariably, it gets trafficked to drug operators who make derivatives of opium like heroine and other deadly drugs.
Considering the magnitude of the problem, the Central government in 1985 enacted The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act which consolidated various earlier laws under the Opium Act, 1878 and the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1930. India has also signed several international conventions, namely the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs, the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances and the 1988 UN Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. India has signed bilateral agreements with several countries on narcotics and drug related matters for better cooperation and coordination.
The Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985 is the statutory law for enforcement agencies and the punishment is severe and the trial is by the sessions court. As trafficking in drugs is across States and crossing international borders, the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) was created in March 1986 as per Section 4(3) of the NDPS Act to coordinate efforts by multiple agencies and is the designated authority for taking measures with respect to such matters as specified by the Central government and is subject to overall supervision by the Central government.
NCB has multiple tasks of enforcement, collection of intelligence coordination with State enforcement agencies, international cooperation on drug control and also coordination with other Ministries like Family Welfare, Health, Social Welfare and other departments dealing with de-addiction and rehabilitation of victims.
India has a young population as the average age of the population is only thirty years. It is essential that our youth are given quality education and requisite skills to make them employable. Both the Central and State governments have initiated several schemes for making the youth skilful but the sad part is drug abuse among the youth is killing them.
Punjab is known for its vibrant youth population but there is a huge drug addiction and substance abuse problem among the youth there. Punjab, being close to the Golden Crescent countries, has narcotic substances made easily available. Indifferent enforcement due to the strong unholy nexus of politicians and law enforcers with the drug mafia is primarily responsible for this pitiable state. Some social activists also point to the poor representation in sports from Punjab where its youth once held pride of place in national-level sports competitions, and drug abuse is touted as the main reason.
This indeed is a cause for alarm. Punjab was in the grip of the Khalistan movement, with unabated acts of terror which were dealt with a firm hand by former police chief KPS Gill. Comparative peace in Punjab now is attributed to the drugs which have made the youth docile and inactive. The Northeast also faces the same problem of increasing drug abuse and substance abuse among the youth. On the militancy side, the police are happy that the youth in the grip of drug addiction are sober and not reacting to call for terrorism by unlawful elements!
Tamil Nadu came under the spell of drug trafficking due to the Sri Lankan ethnic strife in the late seventies and eighties. Initially, Tamil Nadu was a transit route for narco-terror movement of drugs for weapons but gradually, the drug mafia, sensing the potential, began peddling drugs locally, making thousands of youth fall prey to this deadly addiction.
‘Cold Turkey’ is a state of utter helplessness of the addict when drugs are not available, and he will go to any extent to procure them. They will commit thefts initially in their own homes and slowly, this becomes a habit, giving them the motivation to indulge in bigger crimes. Most of the offenders in prisons are victims of alcohol, drug or substance abuse. Trafficking of drugs in prisons is a major problem for prison administrators.
A youth from an affluent family, a victim of drug addiction, was brought by his parents for de-addiction treatment to Chennai. Within hours after landing in the city, the boy went out from his place of stay and was able to procure drugs of his choice. This only shows how cleverly drug operators move around in the city, unobtrusively identify the addict and quickly supply to satisfy the victim’s need!
The police periodically conduct raids and seize narcotics. Annually, on an average, 3.5 lakh kg of narcotics, including about 2000 kg of heroin and cocaine-the favourite drug of the rich, are seized by the enforcement agencies. There are certain vulnerable points, particularly on the outskirts of Chennai like Tambaram, Selaiyur, Old Mahabalipuram, Thoraipakkam and Kannagi Nagar where drug peddlers have a field day. They target innumerable educational institutions in the belt area, fully playing on the psychology of youth who initially fall a prey due to peer pressure and later consider it a matter of pride to flaunt their addiction to tobacco, liquor or hard drugs.
Trafficking of narcotics is considered a “silent terror” and its pernicious grip on the youth is a visible ticking bomb even more dangerous than terrorism.
—The writer is Mylapore MLA and former DGP