Courts in Punjab are sending drug addicts to prisons and not de-addiction centres, though the law provides for such rehabilitation of persons indulging in substance abuse, according to a study by a think tank.
The study was unveiled here in the presence of former union law minister Salman Khurshid, former Chief Justice of Punjab and Haryana High Court Justice Mukul Mudgal and former Additional Solicitor General K V Vishwanathan, who were of the view that sending drug addicts to prison instead of rehabilitation would result in turning them into traffickers.
They stressed that drug peddlers ought to be targeted rather than the addicts.
The report prepared by the think tank — Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy — stated that despite provisions in the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act allowing people caught with drugs to be sent to de-addiction centres for rehabilitation, the courts in Punjab were sending them to jail.
Sections 39 and 64A of the NDPS Act state that people caught with small quantities of drugs can opt for de-addiction treatment in a government approved centre instead of imprisonment.
The study — ‘From Addict to Convict: the Working of the NDPS Act in Punjab’ — also said that between 2013 and 2015, no person brought before the courts in Punjab was directed to de-addiction and rehabilitation through the courts.
In fact, various interviews with judges and lawyers revealed that this provision for diverting addicts to rehabilitation was mostly unknown to the legal practitioners and judges, the study claims.
“The disparity that has emerged in the report is distressing. What is more distressing is the ignorance the judges show by sending the addicts to prisons instead of de-addiction centres.
“Long spells in prisons lead to interaction with hardened criminals and makes addicts hardened criminals as well,” Justice Mudgal said during the launch of the study.
The main problem with Punjab’s drug addiction crisis is that the addicts are viewed as criminals by the police, prosecution and courts, instead of viewing it as a public health concern, the report said.
Justice Mudgal was concerned over the addicts being made “scapegoats” in the drug trafficking menace.
“Commercial drug dealers are hardly convicted and this is something that needs to be reversed. Deterrence as a theory does not work,” he said.
Vishwanathan also pointed out to flaws in targeting the addicts instead of the peddlers.
“Instead of reforming him, you are making a very good trafficker when he comes out,” he said.
Khurshid also termed deterrence as a “misplaced aspiration”.
“The problem is the entire perspective regarding crime. The only magic formula that we see to address crime is deterrence. There is need to reassess and reexamine the overall concept,” he said.
The study claims lackadaisical attitude of government-run rehabilitation centres saying most of them are not clear on how to deal with this menace.
A government-run centre in Mansa’s answer to what a rehabilitation centre is”food, well-ventilated wards, clean toilets, gym, yoga training, recreation room with LCD screen, laundry facilities”shows their lack of understanding about the process of de-addiction, it said.
Currently, there are 31 government-run de-addiction centres in the state, out of which 26 are functional. The government has approved 21 counselling and rehabilitation centres (50 beds each) in the state, out of which 17 are operational, the report has said.
It also points out that the medical infrastructure present in the state is highly inadequate given the magnitude of the problem.
The Punjab Opioid Dependence Survey states although 80 per cent of people reported that they tried to give up drugs, only 35 per cent reported receiving any help or treatment.
Only about 16 per cent said that they had received medical treatment (i.e. medicines to treat withdrawal symptoms) and less than 10% of opioid-dependent individuals received Oral Substitution Therapy.
Moreover, Punjab has only 11 Integrated Rehabilitation Centre for Addicts, as against 59 in Maharashtra, 34 in Karnataka and 33 in Odisha.
Even though the role of Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in the process of rehabilitation is clearly defined, the output is unclear. Their annual reports show that there have been no major changes in strategies to combat drug abuse and no significant outcomes either.
The MoSJE has failed to conduct any state or nation-wide survey accurately assessing drug consumption. Even the state-survey which it had conducted in 2015 has not been made public because of which there is no accurate information available to assess or monitor the situation, the study claimed.
The young generation of Punjab has been hit the most because of failure to effectively implement the NDPS Act. According to the study which analysed 13, 350 cases registered under NDPS Act between 2013 and 2015, 71.4 per cent of all drug offences involved people between 20-40 years of age whereas about 40 per cent were between the ages of 20-30 years.
The study suggested some recommendations to tackle the problem such as decriminalising drug consumption, diverting addicts through the non-punitive section of the Act, and treatment and rehabilitation to be allocated to one single ministry to avoid confusion about the responsibility of the ministry and to ensure greater accountability.