Narcotics and elections: Drug issue will give punjab poll a high this time also

Nothing of the sort happened as an ousted Amarinder floated his own party and joined forces with the BJP. Meanwhile, the drug problem has remained as serious as ever.
For representational purposes
For representational purposes

CHANDIGARH: As politics over sacrilege cases intensifies in Punjab, the rampant narcotic drug problem, across the state is also set to emerge as a major issue in the run-up to the Assembly polls due February 14.

The ruling Congress, struggling with factionalism at the top, has already brought the drug issue to the fore by booking SAD leader Bikramjit Singh Majithia, brother-in-law of party president Sukhbir Singh Badal, in a 2013 case. SAD has accused the Congress of political vendetta and the Aam Aadmi Party has termed it a political stunt.

In 2017, the Congress then helmed by Amarinder Singh had promised to wipe out the drug menace in “four weeks.” Nothing of the sort happened as an ousted Amarinder floated his own party and joined forces with the BJP. Meanwhile, the drug problem has remained as serious as ever.

According to the NCRB data, in the year 2020, 6,909 cases under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act were registered in Punjab against 11,536 in 2019, followed by Uttar Pradesh that recorded 10,852 such cases.

However, the figures reveal that despite fewer cases, the recovery of heroin remained a record high at 759 kg in Punjab last year as compared to 460 kg in 2019. A Special Task Force officer attributed the less number of cases to a complete lockdown for nearly three months in the country followed by other restrictions later.

In the 2017 polls, the SAD’s tally hit the rock bottom with only 15 seats. In the border district of Amritsar, which has 11 assembly segments, SAD won only in Majithia.

In Gurdaspur’s seven seats, the Congress won six while SAD won only Batala. The Congress won all four seats of Ferozepur, the stronghold of Congress’ veteran Rana Gurmit Singh Sodhi. He has now joined BJP.

The SAD has gone after the ruling Congress, claiming the government has done little to tackle the drug problem despite making big claims. When the Congress government came to power, it formed the STF on drugs. Since then STF has carried out many operations, arrested many smugglers and seized drugs. In over four years, heroin recoveries are 3.6 times the 2017 haul.

Besides, 77 police personnel have been sacked for their involvement in narcotic trade. The conviction rate increased from 59% in NDPS cases to 76% in 2021.

The case that has been registered against SAD’s Bikramjit Singh Majithia is on the basis of an STF report which it submitted in the Punjab and Haryana HC in 2018.

Punjab Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu has threatened that if his party government does not make the STF report public, he would sit on fast until death.

He had earlier targeted Amarinder for not fulfilling his pre-poll promise of “breaking the backbone of drugs.”

After Majitha was booked by the state police, Sidhu demanded his arrest, claiming that the drug peddler-police-politician nexus has continued to thrive.

The HC on Monday granted interim anticipatory bail to Bikram Singh Majithia. Justice Lisa Gill made it clear that the senior Akali leader would join investigations in the case. He moved the court after a Mohali court dismissed his anticipatory bail petition.

Meanwhile, Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi has hit out at AAP’s national convener Arvind Kejriwal for apologizing in court for his comments on Majithia’s involvement in the drug trade following a defamation case filed against him by Majithia.

“Had Kejriwal not apologized, Amarinder Singh would have been forced to act against him. I am surprised how Kejriwal comes to Punjab after apologizing to Majithia,’’ said the chief minister. AAP says the case registered against Majithia is an election stunt of the Congress.

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