“Mountains are blessed places,” says Devki (named changed), 49 and mother of a 19-yr old youth, who died of drug overdose three years back. “Yet, there is a worrying side – growing drug abuse by youth, which tends to make Himachal Pradesh like neighbouring “Udta Punjab”, the title given to the drug riven state by a 2016 Bollywood movie.
Devki and her family lied to the police while reporting her son’s death, as she doesn’t want to be identified as the mother of an addict, who suffered from withdrawals after his return from rehabilitation. The boy relapsed and succumbed to an overdose in one of the state’s border districts.
“He used to steal, borrow, beg and even extort money pleading this being one last time and thereafter he will quit drugs,” says Devki. “I trusted his words and gave him a chance. He quit life but not the drugs. It’s a lesson for all those struggling with kids’ drug addiction.”
If this horrifying story is not enough to highlight the drug problem in Himachal, there is the Shimla incident to convince you.
Navpreet, a 20-year-old addict, killed his 44-year old-father Vijay in Vikas Nagar locality early in March after coming to blows at their home. The son, now in jail, had killed his father with a liquor bottle.
The police says Navpreet had just returned from a private drug-deaddiction centre in the town but was advised to be sent to another de-addiction centre outside the state for further treatment. He got into an violent argument with his father. Unfortunately, the father was an alcoholic.
After an alarming rise in the drug abuse cases among school and college students, including girls, the police admit that there has been a big spurt in drug peddling and trafficking. The border districts of Una, Kangra, Solan and Sirmaur are the worst hit while Kullu—already infamous as being a hub of Cannabis cultivation, the source of charas and Marijuana—is posing a big challenge to law enforcement agencies.
In March, Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu handpicked four young IPS officers, three of them women, to head the drug infested districts of Kullu, Kangra and Mandi. Hamirpur, his home district, is already headed by a woman IPS officer.
Shimla, is a new hotspot for “Chitta”, the local name for heroin, smuggled from Punjab and Delhi, mainly sold to youths and students. A few of them also turn peddlers to fund their own needs.
In its efforts to smash the drug cartels operating in the state, state police recently launched its biggest drive ‘Pradhaav’ –wipe out drugs—led by Additional Director General of police (Crime and CID) Satwant Atwal.
24 drug overdose deaths in 2 months
The initiative was forced on the state police given there were over two dozen drug overdose deaths, mainly youths in the age group of 19 to 24, during the past two months.
“The drive is a multi-pronged action to deal with the issue holistically, not just the seizures and arrests of the peddlers or notorious suppliers from outside, but also reducing the demand,” says Satwant Atwal. “This means strong awareness programmes engaging civil society, professionals, media, lawyers, doctors and public representatives”.
Information given in the state assembly, in response to a question raised by a sitting Congress MLA Malender Rajan from Kangra(district), reveals that there are 2,307 drug peddlers in the state. Of these, 1,836 are from Himachal, 422 are from other states and 49 are foreign nationals.
In Just concluded budget session of the state assembly, the House adopted a resolution asking the centre to amend the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act 1985 to make the law more stringent. It proposed making drug related crimes non-bailable and a provision minimum 10-12 years’ jail with Rs 5 lakh fine, life imprisonment for drug trafficking gangs, and confiscation of property earned through drug selling.
Tweaking the relevant Acts
Earlier In 2021, Himachal Pradesh had introduced a ‘Register No 29’ at all its police stations to maintain records of the drug peddlers and others involved in the illegal drug trade. This was a first of its kind initiative in the country started at the behest of Director General of Police Sanjay Kundu.
The Register maintains data of repeat offenders enabling close surveillance on their activities. This has resulted,, police have confiscated drugs worth Rs 6.95 cr.
Says Kundu: “We have requested the state government to convert the existing three Anti Narcotics Task Force (ANTF) Units into ANTF Police Stations at Manikaran( Kullu), Kangra and Shimla to give them more teeth. We have also asked the government to establish ANTF Police Stations in every district, starting with Nurpur and Baddi”.
“During the past two months, we have made a big breakthrough in nabbing two big drug smugglers from Delhi who had a network of supplying “chitta” to peddlers in the district,” says Shimla’s Superintendent of police Sanjeev Gandhi. “There are few others, including foreigners, on our radar”.
Till March 30, 2023, Shimla police had arrested 240 drug smugglers, an all time high number. They included six females. Of the accused, 70 were from other states including Delhi.
Now, the Himachal’s jails are getting overcrowded with these arrests. As many as 40% of the prisoners in Himachal Pradesh’s crowded jails are linked to drug cases reflecting the growing spread of the deadly menace in the hill state. The number of such convicts and under-trials is likely to shoot up this year because of the scale of the arrests being made every day as the courts have also become tough, denying them bail.
Against a total capacity of 2400 prisoners, Himachal Pradesh already has 3000 inmates in jail, most linked to drug crimes.
More than 8,000 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) cases are pending in courts while another 7,000 are under investigation or awaiting trial. As much as 358 kg of charas were seized and 2120 persons arrested during 2022, of which 92 were women and 13 foreigners.“
“Tackling the drug menace is the biggest priority of the government to save the youths from falling in the net of the drug smugglers (Naushe ke Saudagar),” says Chief Minister Sukhwinder Singh Sukhu. “We are going to come-out with a new law not only to send them to jail but also confiscate their properties. The bill relating to this will be passed during the current assembly session”.
There is also a plan to set-up a Special Task Force to tighten the noose around the drug mafia. There is a proposal of creating an advisory board under the Prevention of Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.
The state basically needs to plug the drug dealing network at three points, Baddi-Solan-Shimla, Damtal-Nurpur for heroin and Parvati valley for cannabis—which is grown illegally in the area.
On the reforms side, the state government also has a plan to establish a modern de-addiction and rehabilitation centre with skilled support staff to bring the addicts back into the mainstream.
“We will seek the Centre’s support to evolve a mechanism to share intelligence inputs and take joint actions to control the problem in an effective manner by making necessary amendments in the central legislation on drug menace” the Chief Minister added.
State’s Advocate General Anoop Rattan suggested the government deal with drug abusers as “patients” not criminals or accused and devising an institutional mechanism for their medical care at by trained doctors,nurses and counsellors.
Rattan wants increasing surveillance around educational institutions, use of CCTV cameras at places/hideouts being used by youth for drug intake and also deploying drones.