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Punjab drug fight loses in Akali-Congress battle

Political bickering over the issue has actually trivialised the severity of the problem afflicting the state.

JATINDER PREET  LUDHIANA | 13th Oct 2012

His drug war stirred row.

hile the Akalis and Congressmen spar over the Rahul Gandhi's figure of seven out of ten Punjab youth addicted to drugs, both can be accused of trivialising the severity of the problem afflicting the state.

The All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary, while addressing a meeting of National Students' Union of India (NSUI) in Chandigarh on Thursday said that seven out of ten youth suffer from drug problems in the state. While the problem of drug addiction is acknowledged widely, the senior Congress leader putting a number to it stirred the hornets' nest.

The president of NSUI, Punjab chapter, which hosted Rahul Gandhi in the meeting where he made the remark said it was he who first mentioned the figure from the affidavit, which was later quoted by Gandhi. The affidavit mentioned that seven out of 10 college-going students abuse one or the other drug in the state. But the veracity of the claim in the affidavit has always been in doubt. The state government had not done any assessment of its own to gauge the extent of the problem when the affidavit was submitted.

There have been academic studies by university departments and others based on varied sample surveys. Ravinder Singh Sandhu, sociology professor at Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar, who has done one such study, said he has seen his figures been misquoted many times. Prof Sandhu found that 73% of the 600 drug users and addicts he surveyed were in the age group 16 to 35. This has been often misrepresented as 73% of youth in the state having drug problems, he says. The book on his study was published in 2009 before the affidavit was submitted, although he said he can't say whether his figures formed the basis of the assertion in that. This confusion over figures has only served to ignore the real problem of drug abuse, he lamented.

Television artiste and senior People's Party of Punjab leader Bhagwant Mann, who has been highlighting the drug menace in the state, said even though the 70% sounds alarmist but one could not run away from the fact that Punjab was facing a serious drug abuse crisis. Instead of quibbling over the figure politicians should concentrate on how to fight the menace, he said.

While Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal was quick to demand an apology he, ironically, himself went on to claim that total recoveries of drugs in the state were more than half of the national

recovery even as he attributed it to an intensive campaign by the Punjab police. He held the Ministry of Home Affairs, under whose command the Border Security Force operates, responsible for increasing trans-border smuggling of drugs and ammunition from across Pakistan.

 
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