Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How to tackle Punjab’s drug menace

I have been hearing and reading with great concern about the problem of drug trafficking and drug abuse in Punjab. As per ground reports, it certainly has assumed very serious proportions, to the extent that it is destroying a generation of youth of Punjab known for physical prowess and stamina. India today needs all of its youth to contribute to nation-building.
First, the focus must be to reduce demand and cut off supplies. To do this we must begin with the local politician, which includes the municipal councillor and the village heads. They are closest to the ground. They must delink themselves any seller or supplier, and have to be prime educators.
Let me share with you most humbly some practical ideas on how we diminished the problem of drug sale and abuse in one of my postings in Delhi Police. The strategy is simple and comprehensive. We must begin with the existing resources, with a commitment to considering the drug abuse as an epidemic. The plan requires a team-leadership that is accountable and transparent. With this system in place, the Punjab situation can improve in the next two to three years.
To reduce the drug demand, there have to be more responsible parents and teachers who ensure no students drop out of schools; and community leaders who are looked up to for guidance. They must collectively mobilise resources for setting up holistic treatment centres.
Local politicians also need to create skill-training programmes which generate employment in their respective areas, encourage sports and various other creative activities.
Second, politicians must not interfere with law-enforcement authorities to ensure effective interdiction both on supply and demand side. Police must enforce the law effectively, firmly and fairly as this is their primary responsibility. Through systems of community policing, the police can be assisted on information on traffickers and addicts. They need strong support of social and health departments to open and run treatment centres.
Abusing drugs even for personal consumption is an offence, though under certain conditions. Such as those indulging in violent behaviour, which almost all do, must be jailed and treated inside the jail for reasons of restraint.
Prisons too have to be drug-free with treatment centres. Addicts must be released only conditionally, which is, to remain drug-free with regular reporting to the treatment centres. Courts must be moved for forfeiture of sureties in cases of breach of bail conditions.
A database must be kept of all traffickers and abusers, for law to be applied on them unsparingly. This will send a clear message to all that drug crime will not pay.
In the ’90s, we faced a similar sort of situation in Delhi and did not let anyone worth his salt interfere in police work. We booked them if they made a bad recommendation, thus neutralised them.
Police must work in close cooperation with the Narcotics Control Bureau, the Border Security Force, the Customs and other intelligence agencies. For this, the state police leadership or bureaucracy is vital. Coordination ensures success. The local administration like the district magistrates and superintendents of police are important hubs for local coalitions.
As a crime-prevention measure we used to track addicts, either arrested them in preventive sections of law or under drug offences or sent them for treatment on need basis. Actually, for the first time we in Delhi Police opened our own treatment centres to meet the demand. It worked. This was the rehabilitative role of community policing.
Crime prevention cannot be without the support of community. For this we created border groups and worked with local bodies on a regular basis. We also opened toll-free phone lines to inform us of sale or consumption. This sent the scare.
The judiciary too has a vital role in expediting drug cases and punish stringently. Delayed trials make drug cases ‘rewarding’ as by then substantial money has been made. Drug money must not be seen to be ‘enriching’.
Under the law, properties can be attached. Regular update in law training is essential for enforcers too. We kept track of all drug trials. And ensured we keep past criminals and addicts under local watch. If they slipped, we went back to court to cancel their bails, which meant stiffer penalties.
The problem is of our own creation, thanks to weakening of governance and breakdown of social systems. Public representatives must take the lead, with unsparing and impartial police, caring parents and strict teachers, responsible community participation, and expeditious judiciary. All must work in tandem.

We made this happen, and succeeded. This plan is based on not mere recall, but duly documented. And it was a major reason recorded in my Ramon Magsaysay Award citation in 1994. Where there’s a will, there is a way — not a cliché, it’s true!