In a major strategy shift in its battle against drugs, the Punjab government has decided not to penalise those caught with small amounts of narcotics, and instead send them to de-addiction centres.
“Punjab Police is set to implement the Section 64 (A) of the NDPS Act that provides immunity from prosecution to addicts, who voluntarily seek to undergo medical treatment for de-addiction from a hospital or an institution maintained or recognised by the government,” IG (headquarters) Dr Sukhchain Singh Gill, who is also the official Punjab Police spokesperson, said on Monday.
Under the new plan, those who are caught with a very small quantity of heroin or narcotics meant for personal consumption will be treated as victims and section 64A will be enforced to give them a treatment opportunity,” added Gill.
Currently, addicts are charged under section 27 (punishment for consumption of any narcotic drug or any psychotropic substance). The section also states that the said immunity from prosecution may be withdrawn if the addict does not undergo the complete treatment for de-addiction.
“The section is already there in the NDPS Act but the police were not using it till now because of certain reasons. Accused were also apprehensive of availing treatment under the section as they used to fear that this will be sort of admission of their crime. But now we have decided to make aware people about this section. The basic idea is to decriminalise addiction,” added Gill.
The idea was first floated by state health minister Dr Balbir Singh who, in June, had said the state was mulling not to penalise addicts who are caught with small quantities of drugs. “Drug abuse has affected a large number of people in Punjab and created an obstacle in the progress and development of the state. Our government is committed to making the state ‘Rangla Punjab’ (Vibrant Punjab) as envisioned by chief minister Bhagwant Mann,” the minister had said.
The plan not only puts the focus on treatment and rehab of addicts but also aims at decongesting the state prisons which are already overflowing with inmates. According to a government report, around 30,000 inmates are lodged in state jails against the capacity of 26,000. Nearly half of them are undertrials in NDPS cases.
According to senior cops, who are part of special task force (STF) against drugs, Punjab registers 10,000 to 12,000 NDPS FIRs each year and nearly 13,000-14,000 accused are arrested in these cases and sent to jails.
“Of the total FIRs, nearly 2000 are registered against those who are caught with small quantities of drugs, mainly for their personal consumption. When they go inside jails, their tendency to become hardcore criminal increases,” said an official, who did not want to be named.
On the enforcement front, district police chiefs have been told to launch an extensive drive against peddlers and suppliers, said IG Gill, adding that special focus is on pharmaceutical drugs.