Chandigarh, July 8: Punjab’s drug menace, which Amarinder Singh had sworn by the holy Gutka Sahib to wipe out within four weeks of coming to power, has come to haunt his government with reports suggesting a surge in the deaths of addicts.
The 16-month Congress government in Punjab is in a spot after a spate of deaths, allegedly due to drug overdose or the use of adulterated heroin.
The apparent surge in such cases comes at a time when the government is implementing an ambitious mission called ‘Tandrust Punjab’, meant to improve the people’s physical and mental health by taking care of the state’s air, water and food quality.
Wary of a public backlash if it fails to tackle the menace ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the state Cabinet recently recommended to the Centre to allow death penalty for drug peddlers and smugglers, a move some activists dubbed a “knee-jerk” reaction. Under immense pressure from social activists and the opposition parties, the state government also announced mandatory dope tests for all government employees.
This angered them and also triggered a political slugfest with the main opposition Aam Aadmi Party daring the chief minister to set an example by coming forward to take the test himself. However, Shiromani Akali Dal, whose previous coalition government was accused of patronizing the drug mafia, has urged people to rise above political affiliations and fight a “comprehensive war” against a common enemy.
According to reports, about 20 people died last month in Punjab because of drug overdose although the state health department has confirmed only two such deaths. Some videos purportedly showing addicts dying of drug overdose have also surfaced on social media, adding to the pressure on Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. But the state government claims it is acting effectively against the problem.
A special task force formed by Amarinder Singh soon after coming to power claimed to have choked the supply of drugs, especially heroin, to the state. It is argued that it is this “shortage” that has forced addicts to consume adulterated drugs, which was leading to the deaths. “The intensive action plan unfolded and executed by us over a year has resulted in the arrest of 18,977 drug peddlers and the treatment of more than two lakh drug victims,” Amarinder Singh has said.