Shimla, Aug 6 (IANS) The drug menace is scaling new heights in Himachal Pradesh. Blame it on porous borders, lack of political will, absence of awareness about the repercussions of drug abuse or the lure of easy money, the fact remains that the youth of the hill state — as in Punjab — are steadily fall prey to drug abuse and its harmful consequences.
The police suggest “chitta” is the new lifestyle chemical drug craze, especially among the youth, in the state, where the inaccessible valleys and lofty mountains have been infamous for illicit cultivation of cannabis and opium for centuries.
“Chitta” (a white powder drug) is an extract of opium laced with synthetic drugs. It is cheaper than heroin.
Expressing its anguish, the Himachal Pradesh High Court has time and again been rapping state authorities on their knuckles over their response, or lack of it, to the growing drug menace.
The volume of clandestine trade can be gauged from a government submission in the high court last month that 94 kg of charas, three kg of opium, 116 kg of poppy husk, 0.496 kg of ganja, 480 grams of heroin and 39,135 tablets and capsules were seized in the state in April-June.
In addition, 133 grams of smack, 49 grams of cocaine, 10,000 cannabis plants and 12,938 poppy plants were seized.
“Information with regard to recovery of contraband worries us,” a bench of Acting Chief Justice Sanjay Karol and Justice Sandeep Sharma observed.
In its order on July 19, the court said despite there being a state-wide campaign and search operations there appears to be no let up in the illegal trade of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
“At this stage, we are not clear in our mind whether the highest authorities in the state, who are responsible for taking policy decisions, are alive and conscious to the factual position on the ground or not.”
“There is huge wild growth of cannabis in the state, more particularly in the Kullu Valley, as a consequence of which local residents who otherwise have no jobs easily get into this illegal trade and become victims of this illegal trade,” said the bench, asking the Chief Secretary to file a compliance report.
Admitting that the youth are falling prey to drugs, Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur has admitted that about 27 per cent youth in the state are involved in drug abuse.
“We have decided on a special drive against drugs by involving people at the grassroots and to set up a state-level Special Task Force to monitor the inter-state movement of drugs,” Thakur told IANS.
He said the government will also promote alternative crops in areas where cannabis is cultivated.
O.P. Sharma, 51, a retired officer from the Narcotics Control Bureau, who is now cultivating organic apples in remote Tissa in Chamba district, said the government should follow the carrot and stick approach to weed out the drug menace.
“The government should go for strict enforcement and intensive monitoring but also offer an alternative development plan for those into illicit cultivation of poppy and cannabis for their livelihood,” he said.
Citing an example, he said the interiors of Tissa and Pangi, once known for growing cannabis, are switching to fruit and floriculture.
“Now, farmers in Tissa and Pangi are growing apples and other fruits. Each farmer is annually earning Rs 300,000-400,000 per bigha from apples and this is a handsome income for them,” he told IANS.
“But the government needs to invest (by) giving subsidy to locals to buy high-quality imported rootstock so that they can opt for alternative and remunerative cultivation.
“Setting up fruit processing centres and cold chains in cannabis and opium-growing areas will be a value addition to discourage the illegal cultivation of cannabis,” he said.
“So there has to be strict enforcement, intensive monitoring along with an alternative development plan for those who are into illicit cultivation of poppy and cannabis for livelihood,” Sharma added.
His Malana Vikalp cooperative society model could not reap fruit owing to lack of government back-up.
The Magic Valley in the upper reaches of Malana, some 50 km from Kullu town, is known for cultivating the prized “Malana Cream” hashish, a purified resinous extract of cannabis.
Officials say over 60 per cent of the poppy and cannabis produce in Himachal Pradesh is smuggled out to countries like Israel, Italy, Holland and some other European countries. The remaining finds its way to Nepal or to Indian states like Goa, Punjab and Delhi.
In the past five years, over 70 foreigners, mainly Britons, Israelis, Dutch, Germans, Japanese and Italians, have been arrested under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act. Easy availability of narcotics in McLeodganj and its surrounding areas in Kangra district and Karsol in Kullu district have turned the areas into an addicts’ haven, the police say.
As per police records, in Kullu district alone 1,798 cases under the NDPS Act were registered in 10 years. A total of 1,936 people, including 161 foreigners, were arrested.
“The maximum number of cases is from the younger age group and they are drug abusers. And those in the elder age group, above 40, they are alcoholic,” a senior doctor at the Civil Hospital in Kullu town said. The hospital has been running a de-addiction centre for two years.
“Heroin addiction is the most crucial challenge for the local population. LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide) is basically not to our taste… and it’s not being developed as a local drug so far. It’s being used only by high-end tourists, whether they are foreigners or from other states (in India), who engage in events like rave parties,” Kullu Superintendent of Police Shalini Agnihotri said.
“But ‘chitta’ is a major challenge for us as far as psychotropic drugs are concerned,” she added.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at [email protected])