Are dope tests the answer to Punjab’s drug menace? (News Analysis)

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Chandigarh, July 11 (IANS) Claims, counter-claims, allegations, denials. The war of words over substance abuse in Punjab is hotting up, but it is not likely to help the state solve the complex problem it faces. And the latest round has been sparked by the decision by Chief Minister Amarinder Singh to order mandatory dope tests of all government employees and police personnel.

While Amarinder Singh is defending his blanket order, under which over three lakh government employees, including the 70,000-strong police force, will have to undergo dope tests to prove that they are not doing drugs, the move is being criticised by several leaders in the opposition and within the ruling Congress too.

The Chief Minister fired the dope test salvo last week after repeated attacks by the opposition over the past two months targeting his government’s failure to contain the drug menace as promised by him by taking a religious pledge in December 2015.

Amarinder, then in the opposition, held the “Gutka Sahib” (a Sikh holy booklet) in his hand and took a pledge to wipe out drugs and the drug mafia from Punjab within four weeks of coming to power. But even after over 15 months in power, his government has not been able to do much to curb the widespread drug addiction that is taking a major toll on the state’s economy and jeopardising its future.

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In an interview to a TV news channel, Singh clarified: “I never said that I will eradicate drugs from Punjab. Please see the video again. I said (in Punjabi) that we will break the backbone of the drugs racket in Punjab. We have accomplished that. The availability of drugs has taken a hit and prices have shot up.”

The Amarinder government is being accused by the opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) of not netting the “big fish” in the drug trade and only putting petty drug peddlers and users behind bars. He is also being accused of going soft on Shiromani Akali Dal leaders, whom he used to accuse of being involved in the drug racket.

Punjab’s Leader of Opposition (LoP) and senior AAP leader Sukhpal Singh Khaira, in a letter to Amarinder last week, questioned the logic behind the dope test order and said that crores of rupees would be wasted in the entire exercise which would divert the attention from the core problem of drug abuse in Punjab.

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“What is the point in having all the approximately three lakh government employees undertake the dope test? Particularly woman employees, clerks, etc., who have no connection with the drug trafficking menace. I am told that if all state employees were to take a dope test it will cost the public exchequer Rs 17-18 crores annually,” Khaira, who sent a copy of his own dope test to the Chief Minister, pointed out in his letter.

Khaira said that the focus of the debate has shifted from the real issue of drug mafia having deep connections with the police officers of the state, to the non-issue of the dope test.

The dope test order has evoked scepticism among government employees too, who fear that they might be targeted and harassed. Even though the Chief Minister has made it clear that “government employees who are found positive in the dope test would not be punished or sacked but would instead be provided treatment”, the entire exercise is causing concern among employees.

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The state government, in recent weeks, has shot off letters to the central government to make anti-narcotic laws stiffer.

The Chief Minister, however, continues to defend his decision, saying such tests were also conducted in the army as well. “The current situation in the state, where addicts were resorting to the use of concoctions due to scarcity and high price of drugs, had warranted such harsh steps,” Amarinder said on Monday.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at [email protected])

–IANS

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