Shashi Kant | May 1, 2015
September is the month that I have always loved the most. September, the month with which the winters starts setting in. When flowers of different colours and hues bloom, releasing a fascinating aroma into the atmosphere. Ever since my childhood, I have been in love with the flowers and the nature, the blue sky, blue waters, lush green trees and grass. This was and still is my mindset about September. But again, September also ignites another set of memories.
COVER STORY | Punjab drug problem: The lost generation
It was the month of September in 2011 when I was once again ‘punished’ for not abiding by the illegal and unjust dictums of the ‘political powers that be’ and posted as the head of the prison department in Punjab. It was avowedly known as a totally third-rate ‘punishment’ posting and I was certainly far from happy about it, not knowing that it was set to change the course of my life. It was a ‘non-police’ posting and I was a police officer who had never worked in this department and was totally ignorant both of its working and the ‘rules of the game’. But it was my destiny which had got me posted there.
Within a few days of my joining there, one late afternoon I got the information that there was massive ‘revolt’ in the recently built Kapurthala prison house. It was also the night of some gala kabbadi game, a game of rural India which is being promoted in Punjab because of political reasons and which apparently has involvement of drug money in it, as well. Of late, some big names of some drug barons are being associated with this game. Entire political ‘who is who’ of Punjab, including the chief minister (Parkash Singh Badal) and his cabinet, were busy watching the game in Ludhiana.
Apparently, there was a free flowing of drugs, including smack, in this prison house. One inmate had died of overdose of drugs and this led to disturbance in the prison, which lodged a large number of drug addicts. The prison house had a state-of-the-art 30-bedded hospital and a 10-bedded drug de-addiction centre as well. The rebellious inmates first raided the de-addiction centre and consumed whatever psychotropic drugs they could lay their hands on. Then they raided and looted the hospital and consumed whatever they could find, thinking that they were also psychotropic drugs. Thereafter, under the influence of drugs, they set buildings on fire, demolished heavy iron grills and gates. They virtually took over the prison and quite a few inmates succeeded in escaping.
We could control the situation with great difficulty and only by late in the night. As a result of overdose of looted and consumed drugs, by the morning, about 300 inmates were taken seriously ill. It was a painful scene watching these 300-odd inmates, who were till a short time back totally violent and bent on even killing us, crying in agony and in pain.
They were lying all over the prison house, which had a capacity of 3,000-plus. They were in broken and half-burnt barracks as also on the grounds. There was no hospital, no medication and no doctors. It was disturbing, watching them helplessly with tears in my eyes. And the mighty Punjab government was totally apathetic. They were not worried at all. They were sitting in their own ivory towers, least bothered about it all. They reminded me of Nero who fiddled while Rome was burning. Watching those 300 men crying, groaning and dying was the sight which indeed changed my life.
Worried about the situation in Kapurthala prison house, I asked one of my doctor friends, Dr Sandeep Bhola, a psychiatric doctor who runs a government de-addiction centre in the Kapurthala hospital, to take charge. He asked me to arrange necessary medicines to save these men from a possible painful death. Some of the medicines like Buprenorphine are restricted drugs and not openly available to lesser mortals like us. This medicine is used in opium substitute therapy (OST) to cure addicts. I was told that these medicines could be available with the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime in Delhi. They refused. I contacted the chief minister, who bluntly told me that I was the head of the department and it was my duty to arrange for the medicines. Not to be deterred, I contacted National Aids Control Authority, which also uses these medicines. They asked me to come through the state government, as being a police officer I had no locus standi for them.
As a last resort, I contacted the health secretary of Punjab, a young and energetic IAS officer named Karan Avtar Singh. He stood by and ordered diversion, on loan, of the entire stock of Buprenorphine lying with the state Aids control authorities and, thank god, we could save all the lives. There was not a single causality, thanks to Karan and the dedicated team of Dr Bhola and some of the top officers of the Kapurthala prison house. And mind you, not a word of appreciation from the state government.
This incident prompted me to study the drugs in the Punjab jails. I started interacting with prisoners, who, to my horror, told that there was free availability of drugs in prison houses. They claimed that in bigger prison houses daily consumption of drugs was about 1 kg. Then Punjab used to have 29 prisons houses, big and small. A very conservative estimate indicated total consumption of about 10 kg of smack, with its international value of about '50 crore a day. The figures were astronomical. When I probed it further, there came up a political angle. It was being done at the behest of a political leader, who was known for threatening upright prison officials, whatever minimal number of them could have been thereof.
Further probing revealed that a number of prison officials were involved in drug smuggling racket, though the drugs smuggled by them were generally psychotropic pharmaceutical drugs. These drugs were smuggled in both on person as also along with rations and grocery, being tossed over the prison walls from nearby high-rise buildings, etc. In connivance with police officials, undertrials going out to courts for appearance also smuggled drugs of all sorts through ingenious ways, including hiding them in hollow karas that Punjabis wear, cavities both on their clothing, shoes, as also the body. One has to really run his imagination wild in this context and these are the normal ways to smuggle in the drugs. Visiting relatives also brought them in. Drugs are sold inside the prisons and payments are made outside.
Thereafter, I again started studying the situation prevailing in the open society. Earlier in 2007, as the head of intelligence wing of Punjab police, I had studied drug situation in open society and had found to my horror that a significant number of ‘who is who’ of Punjab, including some sitting and former ministers as also MLAs belonging to various political parties and a number of officials across the board, were either directly or indirectly involved in drug smuggling of all sorts. Based on this study, I prepared a list of names, which was given to the chief minister, who only expressed his annoyance and that list never saw the light of the day thereafter. It is that ‘infamous list of 2007’ which is being sought by the courts and the Punjab government is just giving vague replies of all sorts.
In early 2014, I experimented and took the names of some of the drug barons who featured in the list. I was extremely careful, aware of the consequences on account of the political, social and generic degradation. I took only some generic names like ‘Baba Doddiyan Wala’ and some others. This news was flashed all over the print and electronic media. But still no action was taken by the government and the police. No one stood by me. I was saddled with defamation cases worth '12 crore besides some criminal cases.
Punjab, as on date, has a glut of drugs. It is one of the major drug routes for smuggling of heroin abroad. A good chunk of substandard and adulterated heroin called smack is used here itself and higher grade goes abroad with a part thereof being consumed by the creamy layer, both in Punjab and elsewhere. The state also has a glut of synthetic and pharmaceutical drugs, the former being primarily meant for ‘export’.
Punjab has had successive apathetic governments, and politicians use drug money for political and sundry purposes. No exhaustive studies have ever been made on the subject. And whatever half-baked figures are available, indicate “70-75 percent youth are into drugs, 60-62 percent schoolgoing children have taken drugs at one point of time or the other, and 5-10 percent girls and females up to the age group of 35, take drugs”. Only god knows how correct these figures are.
But one thing is certain, that we have lost almost an entire generation of youth in Punjab. Punjab, which used to be green and white with agricultural produce and milk. As on date those divine colours of green and white have assumed the dark hues of pharmaceutical drugs, heroin/smack, synthetic drugs, besides the legal intoxicant, alcohol. There is a glut of drugs and deaths in Punjab, generations getting lost and politicians fiddling, while Punjab burns.
And this is the story of my activism, which goes on and shall go on till my death at the hand of the government-sponsored drug mafia.
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