By Nantoo Banerjee
It is a pity that the rampant drug abuse in India, one of the world’s top ten markets in narcotics smuggling and consumption, rarely hits the headline and gets debated nationally except when rich and popular Bollywood cine stars, their kins and associates are caught by the police in drug use or illicit drug possession cases. The stories printed or aired by the media in such cases are often sympathetic and even defensive towards celebrity drug abusers. Typically filmy-style, they even seem to question the integrity and intentions of the police, indirectly pointing fingers at possible extortion bid. There is little concern about the growing narcotics consumption in India, ruining millions of lives across age groups and income levels. Published reports suggest that consumption of narcotic substances in India — from traditional plant-based drugs such as cannabis, cocaine and heroin to synthetic drugs such as Tramadol — has increased manifold in recent times.
Last September, India’s Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) made the world’s biggest ever narcotic haul, weighing 2,988 kilos, worth Rs. 21,000 crore (over US$2.8 billion) at Gujarat’s Mundra port. Disguised as a consignment of ‘semi-processed talc stones’ originating from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, it had arrived from Bandar Abbas Port, Iran. Eight people, including five foreign nationals, were arrested in the case. The payment is normally transacted through hawala. As usual, the media report was sketchy. Little is known about the progress of the National Investigation Agency (NIA) probe into the narcotic seizure. On the contrary, the media provided considerable space and air time day after day on the arrest of a Hindi film star’s Goa-bound son with friends in the Mumbai cruise ship drugs case. Most reports were sympathetic to the alleged celebrity drug abusers.
Although there is no reliable data available of the exact size of India’s narcotics market and consumption, the Global Burden of Disease Study estimated the number of lives lost in India was 22,000 as against the worldwide toll of nearly 7.5 lakh in 2017. The annual global drug trafficking trade is estimated at a staggering $650 billion. Ironically, reports of drug addiction among celebrities seem to only encourage narcotics consumption instead of its prevention. According to the International Narcotics Control Board, “celebrity drug offenders can profoundly influence public attitudes, values and behaviour towards drug abuse, particularly among young people who have not yet taken a firm and fully informed position on drug issues.” The UN body had warned about addiction among celebrities.
However, celebrities live in their own world, often unreal and illogical, and are controlled by strong passion, emotion and sentiment. Among India’s Bollywood celebrities in the news for drug abuse in the past were: the late actor Sushant Singh Rajput, Sanjay Dutt, Prateik Babbar, Fardeen Khan, Vijay Raaz, DJ Aqeel, Ranbir Kapoor and Kangana Ranaut. Kangana had reportedly claimed recently that 99 percent of Bollywood celebs indulge in drugs. She took to Twitter on September 2 and wrote: “I request Ranveer Singh, Ranbir Kapoor, Ayan Mukerji, Vicky Kaushik to give their blood samples for drug test, there are rumours that they are cocaine addicts, I want them to bust these rumours, these young men can inspire millions if they present clean samples.”
Despite the devastating effect of drug abuse on human life and society, the law, enforcement authorities, the government, judiciary, NGOs and the public in India do not seem to be paying enough attention to control the menace. How many people in India have ever been executed for repeated drug offences which its law provides? In keeping with the world-wide trend in framing stringent law to deter drug trafficking and abuse, India in 1989 incorporated a new Section 31A in the UN-prompted Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of1985, making death sentence mandatory for repeat offences.
Surprisingly, in the midst of the latest drug controversy, the Union Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry suggested that users and dependents caught with small quantities of drugs should be treated as “victims” and not culprits of substance abuse. Such an advice appears to be rather funny since all drug addicts start with small doses in the beginning. This is unacceptable and goes against the spirit of the NDPS Act. It also challenges the hardening global view on substance abuse. Notably, in 2018, Harm Reduction International reported that “there are at least 33 countries and territories that prescribe death penalty for drug offences in law” and added that between January 2015 and December 2017, at least 1,320 people were known to have been executed for drug-related offences. In six countries — China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore — drug offenders are known to be routinely executed.
The studies conducted by some of the country’s well-known NGOs in the field and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights suggest that the substance abuse in adolescents in India is rising at an alarming rate. It is the direct result of the changing cultural values, fierce competition in the fields of education and employment, growing economic burden on families and declining supportive bonds for adolescents in this transitional age. The government, the society, parents and teachers in educational institutions need to concentrate more on preventive programmes focussed on initiation of drugs abuse, specially among the younger age groups. The government must do its job to strictly prevent drug smuggling, cut illegal supply sources and enact more stringent laws providing exemplary punishment to drug offenders as some of the Asian countries have been practicing with excellent results. (IPA Service)