By Dr. S. Saraswathi
The investigation into the mysterious death of Sushant Singh Rajput is leading the authorities deep into the flourishing illicit drug trade and its network in India. Verily, it is a case of ghost emerging while digging a well, as a Tamil saying goes. The by-product is as serious as the actor’s death.
A Kannada film actress is arrested under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act following a recent drug bust in Kannada film industry. Karnataka police has begun crackdown on drug peddlers. The Sandalwood drug racket has led to destruction of marijuana cultivation in the State.
Drug link is suspected in the gold smuggling case in Kerala by an international gang. In inaccessible hill areas in Andhra Pradesh, ganja is freely grown. Search is on to capture the accomplice of a notorious Sri Lankan drug trafficker hiding in Tamil Nadu.
These are not rare incidents as drug abuse has assumed alarming proportions. About two days ago, a cartel supplying ganja to Chennai from Andhra Pradesh was busted by the police. The contraband was being transported in the guise of vegetables in goods carriers. Seizure of banned gutkha products and sealing of illegal godowns of such substances by the police are often reported which proves that drug related crimes are growing as most common among organised crimes. This trade requires well-knit team work and a strong chain of network, as at every point, it has to escape the eyes of the police to survive.
A press report reveals that in some temples in North Karnataka, Marjuana is considered sacred and distributed as “Prasad” to devotees! During temple festivals, ganja sale is said to be common under a belief that consumption of this stuff helps in meditation and in achieving enlightenment. A spiritual purpose and experience are attributed to drug addiction.
Any substance introduced into the body orally or by injection or by smell is known as drug. It is essentially a chemical agent and used by chemists to make medicines. It is its bad use as narcotic drugs that induce drowsiness and its excessive use that is termed “abuse” that we have to eradicate. It is unrelated to medical treatment.
Two Opium Wars were fought between England and China in 1839 and 1856 over opium trade which carried enormous monetary value.
If narcotic drug trade has become the biggest news today, one wonders how it has been allowed to grow. What in our system is so weak as to allow this? Is the law inadequate or its enforcement weak or the parties in the crime extraordinarily powerful or have powerful support? Catching the offenders in a particular case and punishing them cannot put an end to the illicit drug market. The roots of the drug and the routes taken by the traders have to be destroyed which requires transnational operations with international cooperation.
The impact of COVID-19 on drug trade and market is another dimension that needs to be investigated. Lockdown restrictions on movements must have resulted in scarcity and substandard products as in other consumer products.
Drug abuse or substance abuse is reported to be growing at an alarming rate. Under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985, the Narcotic Control Bureau (NCB) as the chief law enforcement and intelligence agency responsible for fighting drug trafficking and abuse of illegal substances was constituted in 1986. Prevention of Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act was adopted in 1988. Violation of these laws is punishable criminal offences.
The UN General Assembly adopted the Declaration on the Control of Drug Trafficking and called upon member-States to fight this “criminal activity” with all moral, legal, and institutional means at the national, regional, and international levels. The decade 1991-2000 was declared as a decade against drug abuse.
A special session of the General Assembly on World Drug Problem in 2016 expressed the joint commitment of the participating States to effectively address and counter world drug problem. The Outcome Document issued after the session noted that appropriate emphasis should be placed on individuals, families, communities, and society as a whole. In particular, the challenges faced by transit nations were noted for enhancing their capacities to address the problem. India is one of the transit countries situated between Afghanistan, the largest producer of opium, and East and South-East Asia.
UN International Day Against Drug Abuse, first declared in 1987 and presently observed on 26 June is an expression of the world body’s determination to strengthen action and cooperation to achieve the goal of an international society free of drug abuse. In 2020, the theme for the year is “Better Knowledge for Better Care”. This has to be accompanied with better international cooperation to curb drug menace that destroys health, security, and governance and promotes organised crime, corruption, and even terrorism. Illicit drug trade going on secretly seems to receive international cooperation which is hard to achieve for open constructive purposes.
India enacted the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act in 1985. Its amendment in 1988 introduced death penalty for certain offences under the Act. Illicit production, manufacture, and trade of any narcotic drug or any substance is punishable with imprisonment for 10 years.
World Drug Report 2020 released by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has come out with six booklets containing data and analysis on drug problem. Still, data on international cooperation in this matter, possible alternative cultivation in areas growing drug plants, and on the nexus between drugs and crime are not complete. According to this Report, around 269 million people used drugs worldwide in 2018, which was 30% more than in 2009. Over 35 million were found suffering from drug use disorders.
In Punjab and Haryana, drug addiction has currently become an important political issue. NCB has identified 18 districts in Punjab and 10 in Haryana as most affected by substance abuse. In Mizoram, narcotics valued at Rs.90 million were destroyed. Punjab is serving as the transit point for smuggling of narcotic drugs and supplying to all parts of India.
The Madras High Court, observing that Punjab has become the transit point in drug route and the State has already become a big consumer, has asked the Union Government to spell out whether India is being used as a hub by international drug cartels and whether the money involved was being used to fund terrorist and anti-national activities. The court also raised queries regarding involvement of international mafias in crime, the size of drug trade in the country, and the steps taken by the government to curb the problem. The court was dealing with the detention of a drug peddler under the Goondas Act. The Kerala High Court also has taken a suo moto public interest litigation in the matter and has pointed out that educational institutes have become a hotbed of drug peddlers. The country is anxiously expecting that SSR death case will result in exposing the dimensions of drug consumption and trade and its linkages with crimes and diseases so that drug problem can be effectively tackled.
The author is Former Director, ICSSR, New Delhi