Sri Ganganagar is not just another border district in Rajasthan, it also happens to be one distinctly ‘Punjabi’ in its character. Along with a sizeable population of Punjabi-speaking people, unmistakable nonchalance, wealth and large swathes of green fields, the city also shares a disturbing similarity with Punjab — growing drug menace. The northern-most district of the desert state has Pakistan on one side and Punjab on the other.
The opening scene of Shahid Kapoor-starrer Udta Punjab shows how drugs from Pakistan make their way into the fields of Punjab. However, Punjab not just happens to be a consumer, it is also used as a transit route to supply drugs coming from across the border to Rajasthan and Haryana. Apart from Sri Ganganagar, Several districts in Rajasthan, including Hanumangarh, Jaisalmer and Bikaner, continue to be vulnerable.
Afghanistan is considered to be the largest producer of opium. The route, also referred to as the Golden Crescent, which originates in Iran, and from Afghanistan and Pakistan, makes its way into Punjab, continues to be the biggest cause of concern. Once drugs reach Pakistan, they are packed into smaller consignments and then sneaked into Punjab. Allegedly backed by the ISI, it has become a proliferating trade. Packets containing opium and heroin are hidden inside mini trucks and vans, which find their way into Rajasthan’s Sri Ganganagar. Part of the drug supplies also travel into Hanumangarh, Barmer and Bikaner districts.
Till recently, opium and poppy husk, commonly referred to as 'doda post' in local parlance, was produced and sold in large quantities in Rajasthan. It also used to be channelised into bordering parts of Punjab, smuggled by hiding it inside humans and animals. Earlier, it was being produced legally for medicinal purposes with cultivation in several parts, including Udaipur, Pratapgarh, Chittorgarh and Bhilwara. But increased vigil meant that production of opium was curbed to a large extent. This led to drug addicts heavily relying on supplies from Pakistan via Punjab or smuggled directly into Rajasthan through the international border.
An estimated 15 per cent to 20 per cent of population in Rajasthan, primarily in rural areas, has been involved in substance abuse. However, there has been a shift in the type of drugs being consumed in certain parts. Opium, considered to be lesser of the evils in many parts, is still the most widely used. An estimated 60 per cent to 70 per cent of drug addicts in Rajasthan consume opium. However, at places, due to decrease in opium’s availability, the use of heroin, considered highly addictive, injectable drugs, syrups and even tablets have seen a marked rise. Almost 25 per cent of addicts in Rajasthan reportedly consume heroin.
Large consignments of drugs in the form of tablets such as Alprazone, Proxyvon and syrups such as Rexcof cough syrup sneak into Sri Ganganagar and Hanumangarh illegally, with alarming regularity. As per police sources, these pills or sedatives are also surreptitiously sold at chemist shops without prescription. Sources claim one tablet of Alprazone gets sold for Rs 500, at a whopping profit of 800 per cent. Lax security and corrupt officials have also contributed in allowing this trade to continue.
Widespread drug abuse has taken its toll in several bordering districts of Rajasthan. Addicts primarily belong to the age group of 14 to 60 years. There have been several cases of addicts exhibiting mental or physical disorder, showing withdrawal symptoms and becoming socially segregated. It has also wreaked havoc in scores of families in the region. Even those who wish to give up, often give in to bouts of extreme craving, becoming sufferers of chronic disorder. The problem has only been compounded in the absence of proper and adequate de-addiction centres. An opium user is ready to spend up to Rs 300 to Rs 400 a day, whereas those into heroin, Alprazone-abuse or sedatives, shell anywhere between Rs 1,200 and Rs 2,000 every day on drugs. In the absence of regular source of income, many of them take to petty crimes or become peddlers too, making more people a victim of the habit.
Many believe that if swift measures are not adopted, Punjab may soon become a lost cause as far as drug problem is concerned. When will the Rajasthan government wake up?