22 Jul 2018
Punjab declaring villages 'drugs-free.' Addicts on medication aren't even counted
The Punjab government has apparently found a new way to battle the drug epidemic in the state: putting up 'drugs-free' signboards outside villages.
Khemkaran MLA Sukhpal Singh Bhullar explained it was a way to motivate other villages.
However, the definition of 'drugs-free' has garnered criticism: villages can earn the tag even if they have addicts undergoing treatment.
And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
Here's how the new scheme works
The government launched this new scheme in June, under which villages declared 'drugs-free' get Rs. 5L for purchasing sports equipment.
Drug Abuse Prevention Officers (DAPOs) file reports on villages' status including the number of addicts and the expected date of the village becoming 'drugs-free.'
Then police steps in, checking if there are addicts or peddlers in the village.
Simultaneously, panchayats pass resolutions declaring villages "nasha-mukt."
Incidentally, there are several flaws in the initiative
Several aspects of this initiative have faced criticism. For example, "once an addict is on medicine, he's not considered an addict, then he's a patient," explained Surinder Singh, SDM, Patti and Bhikhiwind.
The DAPOs are newly trained and began work only last month.
The verification process completely excludes district medical authorities.
There's no review system to check if a village awarded the tag has slipped, either.
Government should spend money on paying us, ensuring security: DAPOs
DAPOs are unhappy too. "While the government is spending on radium boards, it hasn't bothered to clear payments of Ground Level Trainers," said Prabhdeep Singh, one such trainer.
Security is a problem too. Some days ago, a DAPO member, Gurbaksh Singh, was thrashed by peddlers he had accused in Chima Kalan village.
DAPO member Dilbag Singh was also attacked by alleged peddlers in Sabrah.
But the project is going on strong
Despite these glaring shortcomings, 'drugs-free' signboards were installed outside three villages - Mastgarh, Manawa and Kalanjar Uttar in Tarn Taran - on July 14.
Fifteen others are awaiting completion of paperwork for the status.
The first review of the scheme is scheduled for July 26.
"We are in the first step, if things come to our notice later, we'll consider (accordingly)," said SDM Singh.
For now, doctors have distanced itself from the 'drugs-free' certificate
Civil surgeon Dr Shamsher Singh, Tarn Taran, says, "We're giving out no ('drug-free') certificates. Our job is harm reduction. Supply reduction is the job of police. We're fully involved in the movement as far as treatment goes, but there are no 100% guarantees."