Governance deficit and drugs
In the domain of governance, the State machinery is sometimes slow in implementing basic solutions to an urgent problem. Drug enforcement in India is one such area, where the state has been painfully slow. It is no surprise that even though Punjab accounts for almost half of all the cases of drug trafficking in India, the Narcotics Control Bureau is operating with just five officials in the State. To the uninitiated, the NCB is one of the chief law enforcement and intelligence agencies under the Government of India, whose sole responsibility is to address the menace of drug trafficking and abuse of illegal substances. In a report published in this newspaper, it was found that the agency is ill-equipped and has very little or no presence in the State to combat these serious challenges. Officials in the NCB have told this newspaper that instead of having 40-50 officials with a special intelligence unit in every district, the agency faces a dire shortage of basic manpower and basic infrastructure. What’s worse, there is a deliberate attempt by the Punjab government to downplay the drug menace, despite projections that the narcotics trade has risen to over Rs 1 lakh crore per year. According to recent findings by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNDOC), India is among the largest synthetic drug producing countries in the world. To address this problem, the government must conduct a comprehensive study on drug trafficking with officials from all central and state anti-narcotics agencies. In such a study, the emphasis must be on finding out the real kingpins behind the multi-million dollar drug trade and establishing extensive public health interventions to address the problem of drug addiction. The State is a key transit point for illegal narcotics, especially opiates. A study by the Central government claimed that four out of every ten males in the state are addicted to drugs and up to half this number are youth and farmers. Unfortunately, the Centre seems unresponsive to the problem. Even if the Centre does not give two hoots about the public health aspect of the problem, at the very least concerns must arise about how the drug trade in Punjab compromises our national security.
Drug cartels on either side of the border are known to have links to Pakistan’s intelligence service. The Indian armed forces have raised their apprehension that these cartels are trading information for safe passage into India. What’s worse, certain members of the current ruling establishment in Punjab have been accused of allegedly encouraging the drug trade in the State, in collusion with some State police and paramilitary personnel. Despite the heavy presence of the Border Security Force personnel, heavy consignments of drugs are transported on boats and couriers, under the alleged patronage of State officials. In 2013, Shiromani Akali Dal leader Maninder Singh Aulakh had admitted to police interrogators that state government vehicles were used to run the drug syndicate. Aulakh was nabbed soon after former wrestler-turned-drug peddler Jagdish Singh Bhola was arrested by the Punjab Police on charges of orchestrating a massive drug racket in the state. In a revelation that sent shockwaves across Punjab, Bhola had named Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Badal’s brother-in-law Bikram Majithia, a powerful minister in the State Government, as one of those involved in the drug trade. Majithia was soon questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in relation to the drug racket. Moreover, another Punjab government minister Sarwan Singh Phillaur had to resign after his son Damanvir Singh’s name came up during the investigation carried out by the ED into the drug racket.
Although the Punjab Police had reportedly submitted a four-page report to the State government way back in 2007, which contained the names of some highly influential politicians, State police officials and security personnel involved in the drug racket, no action was taken. It’s abundantly clear that the Punjab government and Centre have done little to crack down on drug syndicates in the past three years. If the Modi government had prevailed on its alliance partner in the State to put its house in order, the country would have been saved from the embarrassment which the recent Pathankot attack has caused. Security agencies suspect that the terrorists, who came in from Pakistan, took the help of drug smugglers to enter India through routes tried and tested by traffickers. A survey by the very Narcotics Control Bureau has stated that a steady supply from across Punjab’s borders is making it next to impossible for State and Central agencies to tackle the menace of drug addiction. Despite the mountain of evidence available, it seems that little has been done to prevent drug smuggling. If the Centre is really serious about preventing infiltration, it must take coercive action against the drug smuggling business in the State. There is no hiding from that fact.