By Dr Pawan Kumar Sharma and Sidra Shafaqat
When we celebrate or recognize a day to commemorate an event, it means we are serious about the theme in discussion. Recently, the world celebrated June 21 as International Yoga Day and Father’s Day. The former has more individual advantage, whereas the latter has more social significance. One can imagine the celebration of thoughts and philosophy, which over the years, humans have conveniently forgotten.
However, some days have wider coverage in terms of social and economic impact such as June 26. It was designated by United Nations General Assembly as International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking on December 1987 to be celebrated every year to commemorate Lin Zexu’s dismantling of the opium trade in Humen, Guangdong, just before the First Opium War in China. No country of the world has been able to prevent itself from the curse of drug trafficking and addiction.
It is obvious to recognize such an important issue worldwide keeping in view the negative outcomes associated with it. Socially, drug abuse and addiction divides the society, results in family struggles, ruined careers and raises conflicts. On the other hand, the major economic impact is the greater increase in the divide between the rich and poor.
In India, the border areas are prone to trafficking of heroin, cannabis, methamphetamine and pharmaceutical preparations containing narcotics and psychotropic substances. The reason being the close proximity of India to three major drug-producing and drug-trafficking countries, namely Afghanistan, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Myanmar. Also, the coastal states are susceptible to maritime drug trafficking due to their exposure to trafficking routes across the Indian Ocean.
India is also vulnerable to drug abuse and illicit trafficking. The more affected are the youths and children, who are considered to be the wealth of nation. Based on a study by All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment reveals that 90% of the street children (46,410 cases) in Delhi are addicted to drugs, including substance abuse of heroin (840), opium (420), pharmaceutical opioids (210), and sedatives (210). Further, National Crime Records Bureau revealed that 53 and 34 unnatural deaths of children below 18 years were recorded due to a drug overdose during 2015 and 2016 respectively.
Punjab is considered to be the land of five rivers that symbolizes prosperity in terms of agricultural growth. Drug abuse has acted as the sixth river and destroys the fertility, joy and vibrance associated with its traditional culture. Punjab is considered to the most affected state from drug abuse, followed by Mumbai and Delhi. Now, Haryana, the neigbouring state with Punjab, is also witnessing a rise in cases of drug abuse and addiction.
India is among the countries with highest illicit cultivation and production of cannabis from 2010 to 2017. In 2018, India topped with largest seizure in South Asia, amounting to 266.5 tons of cannabis herb. This indicates a far bigger challenge for drug enforcement authorities. In the year 2018 itself, the authorities had eradicated 1,980 ha of illicit cannabis cultivation.
India is the only country in the sub-region that has consistently reported eradication of illicit opium poppy cultivation, which has increased from 1,400 ha in 2015 to 3,508 ha in 2018. In addition, 16 tonnes of poppy straw and 4.1 tons of opium were also seized. India was also the largest seizer of heroin (1.2 tons), followed by Sri Lanka (0.7 tons) and Bangladesh (0.45 tons). In addition, Codeine-based preparations, particularly Phensedyl, were also seized.
One can imagine the intensity of problem when we observe that the farmers in small states and UTs are engaged in illicit cultivation of drugs. In May 2020, the police destroyed illegal poppy cultivation over an area of more than 60 kanals in Awantipora, Kulgam district of UT of Jammu and Kashmir.
Illicit trafficking is also the major cause of cross-border conflicts. The illegal movement of drugs across borders raises concerns to internal security, health of youth, and thus development of the nation. Of course, people intend to make money out of illicit trafficking, but the lack of commitment on part of government leads to greater conflicts among nations. In the background of this, the regional cooperation assumes great utility to prevent the flow of illegal activities and handle the drug peddlers for achieving regional peace and security.
India has bilateral agreements on drug trafficking with 13 countries, including Burma and Pakistan. In 2018, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka met in Chandigarh to use existing bilateral and regional cooperation mechanisms for better control of trafficking of opiates from Afghanistan. Such gatherings for cooperating neighbouring countries can go a long way to restrict the illicit trafficking and thus prevent the negative consequences of drug abuse.
Internally, India has adopted the National Action Plan for Drug Demand Reduction for the period 2018–2023 to address drug and substance abuse in line with the international drug control conventions and the existing national legislation and policies. The main purpose is to employ a multi-pronged strategy involving the education, de-addiction and rehabilitation of affected individuals and their families. Training and capacity-building of service providers in the Government and non-governmental organizations remains the focus area under the plan.
The fact is, addiction is difficult to control forcefully, whether it’s for drugs, liquor, money, love or relationship. Under the current situation of COVID-19 pandemic, 26,000 drug addicts in Punjab have joined the government-run de-addiction programme. On the other hand, the sale of liquor has witnessed a sharp rise. So the question is whether police should handle the illicit trafficking of drugs or should public and civil society assume greater role in preventing this curse.
(Dr Pawan Kumar Sharma is Scientist (Agril. Economics) at Sher-e-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences And Technology of Jammu, and Sidra Shafaqat is a Ph.D. scholar)