CHANDIGARH: Punjab Cabinet has today decided to recommend to the union government death penalty for drug smugglers and peddlers to act as a deterrent to the heinous crime, after the recent spate of drug-related deaths in the state as around 30 youth died in a month due to the alarming drug abuse problem.
Reiterating its zero tolerance to drugs the cabinet resolved to send a formal recommendation soon to the Union Government to this effect.
It also decided to constitute a special Working Group under the chairmanship of Additional Chief Secretary (Home) NS Kalsi to review and monitor, on a day-to-day basis, the action being taken to check and control drug abuse.
The special working group constituted to review and update the Government strategy against drugs will have ACS (Health) Satish Chandra, ADGP (Law & Order) Ishwar Singh, DGP (Intelligence) Dinkar Gupta and ADGP (STF) Harpreet Singh Sidhu as members. A cabinet sub-committee has also been formed under the chairmanship of the Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, with the special Working Group mandated to report directly to it.
Health and Family Welfare Minister and Social Security Minister have been appointed Members of the sub-committee, which will meet once a week to take stock of the situation and review the progress of the anti-drug campaign of the government. The formal cabinet meeting was preceded by informal discussions, during which senior Home Department and Punjab Police officers briefed the Cabinet members, who were also joined by Pnjab Congress President Sunil Jakhar.
During the discussions, Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh ordered DGP Suresh Arora to intensify the police crackdown on the drug menace. He directed the DGP to go all out against drug smugglers and peddlers, making it clear that no complacency on the issue would be tolerated. The Cabinet took stock of the cases of deaths resulting from drug overdose, which STF chief Harpreet Singh Sidhu admitted to be a matter of concern.
Sidhu suggested registration of all such cases to enable the identification and mitigation of risk factors, such as supply of spurious drugs and mixing of drugs with other death-causing substances. He called for thorough investigation of all such cases, while assuring the Chief Minister of his team's concerted and enhanced efforts to fight the drug menace in a more aggressive manner.
DAPOs should be trained to help the drug addicts cope with the social stigma, he added. Addtioanl Chief Secretary (Home) NS Kalsi emphasised the need to work out a holistic strategy with the involvement of the Enforcement Wing and the Drug De-addiction and Rehabilitation Centres to achieve the desired results. He asked the DGP to review the drug scenario across the state with SSPs on a fortnightly basis.
Delinquent SSPs found not performing up to the mark should be taken to task and adverse remarks should be penned in their ACRs, he suggested. Citing data relating to arrests and seizures under the NDPS Act, DGP Suresh Arora pointed out that there had been a sharp increase in the figures since the Congress Government took over.
Seizure of heroin had then gradually declined over a period of time, underling the effectiveness of the action undertaken by police, STF and various central agencies, along with additional BSF deployment and upgradation of surveillance technology and other infrastructure at the border, he said. It was possible that the resultant shortage of drugs was forcing addicts to resort to consumption of adulterated drugs, which could be leading to deaths, he said, adding that the cause of death in such cases would, however, be established by the report of the chemical examiner.
At the outset, Health Minister Brahm Mohindra informed the meeting that 81 Patient Opioid Assisted Treatment (OOAT) centres were currently functioning effectively in the state and so far, 8000 youth had been successfully treated at these centres. He made it clear that the identities of the drug addicts and their parents were kept confidential to save them from the social stigma attached to drug abuse. Water Supply and Sanitation Minister Razia Sultana suggested taking the parents of drug addicts into confidence to facilitate treatment and rehabilitation of such youth.
Housing and Urban Development Minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa also underlined the importance of saving the drug addicts from the stigma attached to drug abuse, and motivating them into treatment at the drug de-addiction centres. Local Government Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu expressed concern at the public perception that the government had not succeeded in eliminating the drug menace. He also lamented the reported instances of involvement of police personnel in drug menace and urged strict action against the guilty cops.
Senior Advisor to CM Lt. Gen. (Retd) TS Shergill was of the opinion that the Guardians of Governance could play a vanguard role in sensitising youth on the issue of drugs. He called for a grassroots level movement to involve people in the fight against drugs.
Pointing out that NDPS Act was a very sensitive and specialised legislation, Advocate General Atul Nanda mooted the creation of a special cadre of at least 15 well-trained prosecutors to secure conviction of drug offenders in an effective manner, as a corrective measure. Secretary School Education Krishan Kumar told the meeting about the steps taken to sensitise students, from Class VI onwards, about drugs and their ill-effects, with special chapters having been included in Physical Education text books.
Two dedicated teachers each had been deputed in High and Senior Secondary Schools to create awareness amongst the students about drug abuse and its adverse effects on the mental and physical health of youth, he further revealed. Before the meeting started, all members of the cabinet stood in silence as a mark of respect to the Sikhs killed in the Afghanistan suicide attack, as well as the youth who have died due to drug overdose and the farmers who have committed suicide in the state.