Shimla, Feb 17 : Himachal Pradesh is turning into a haven for drug addicts due to easy availability of charas, a form of cannabis, in remote villages.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur admitted in his budget speech recently that increasing use of narcotics and drugs is a matter of concern for all and promised to tackle it. "We are framing a policy on rehabilitation of drug addicts. If required, the laws will be made even more stringent," he said.
The volume of this murky trade can be gauged from a government reply in the Assembly recently that 455.792 kg charas, 7.416 kg opium, 21.253 kg ganja and 0.315 gm smack was seized in the state in the past one year.
Quick bucks are also attracting foreigners, largely Israelis, Italians, British, French and Russians to this clandestine trade.
Tens of thousands of domestic and foreign tourists visit the state ever year.
In the last one year 1,724 people, including 10 foreigners, were arrested on charges of drug peddling and 1,342 cases were registered under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.
According to the police, cannabis and opium are grown illegally in vast tracts of Kullu, Mandi, Shimla and Chamba districts, causing a serious problem of drug cultivation, trafficking and addiction.
Despite the state high court's observations on failure to initiate steps to curb the drug menace, the government admits there is not even a single state-run drug rehabilitation centre in Himachal Pradesh.
There are three integrated rehabilitation centres for addicts being run by non-governmental organisations, Health Minister Vipin Parmar informed the Assembly, recently.
In a written reply, he said 108 addicts were admitted to the Kullu centre, 176 in Dharamsala and 159 in the Nurpur centre in the past one year.
The Chief Minister has also announced setting up of a Yuva Navjeevan Board to prevent trafficking and consumption of narcotics and also for rehabilitation and de-addiction.
The board, to be headed by the Chief Minister, will also monitor implementation of these policies and strategies.
He also said five de-addiction and rehabilitation centres would be set up in 2019-20.
Thakur told IANS a state-level special task force, headed by an Inspector General rank officer, will work in coordination with the police of neighbouring states to tackle the menace.
The assembly, at its last winter session passed a stringent amendment to the existing NDPS Act, making possession of even a small quantity of contraband a cognisable and non-bailable offence.
Cultivators want opium farming be legalised, like in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, and have found support from some legislators and parliamentarians who wonder "what is wrong" if farmers are able to meet the market demand.
According to officials, over 60 per cent of poppy and cannabis produced in the state is smuggled to countries like Israel, Italy, Holland and some other European countries. The remaining finds its way to Nepal or to Indian states like Goa, Punjab and Delhi.
Police say 164 foreigners were arrested for possessing and trafficking drugs in the Kullu district alone between 2003 and 2018.
Apart from the notorious 'Magic Valley' in the upper reaches of Malana, some 50 km from Kullu, easy availability of narcotics in McLeodganj and its surrounding areas in the Kangra district and Karsol in the Kullu district has turned these areas into an addicts' haven, the police say.
The crime rate under the the NDPS Act is 7.7 per cent in Himachal Pradesh against 2.8 per cent in the country.
The government says 883 cases under the NDPS Act are pending in various courts, while 21 convictions were handed down in the last one year.
O.P. Sharma, a former superintendent of the Narcotics Control Bureau, told IANS "alternative farming is the only way of controlling poppy and cannabis cultivation".
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at email@example.com)