Drugs and Punjab

The youth of Punjab who were once known for their bravery and valour are now gripped in the web of drugs. Not only the youth but the population in general including men, women and children, are affected by the drug menace directly or indirectly. This article aims at specifying what exactly is drug abuse and present an outline of the route that these drugs follow to enter Punjab. It also establishes a nexus between drugs and terrorism and politics in Punjab. A major emphasis is given on the recent landmark judgment of the High Court giving clear-cut directions to the State government for immediate action and also on the analysis of the failure of NDPS Act in Punjab.


Drug Abuse is a global phenomenon, affecting almost every country, but it’s extant and characteristics differ from region from region. India too is caught in the vicious circle of drug abuse, and the numbers of drug addicts are increasing day by day. The ban of drug abuse in Punjab has acquired the proportions of a pestilence that has shaken the entire society in the state. It is observed that in Punjab, “drug abuse” is a raging epidemic, especially among the young. [i]

Reason and Route

“Traditionally, drugs in Punjab come from the poppy fields of Afghanistan, cultivated under the patronage of Taliban for whom it is a big source of easy money. According to United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, the total area under poppy cultivation in Afghanistan was estimated at 328,000 hectares in 2017, a 63% increase over the previous year. Potential opium production was estimated at 9,000 tons in 2017, an increase of 87% from 2016. A spike in production in Afghanistan obviously means supply to Punjab will not slacken even despite the crackdown on dealers and peddlers by the state government. There are reports of drugs reaching Punjab through alternative routes now, one so circuitous that it first reaches Africa and then comes to Delhi and Punjab. This route is worked by African smugglers who have bases in Delhi. Afghanistan, however, is not the only source of drugs in Punjab. Spurious and cheap drugs are also manufactured locally, many times in the garb of pharmaceutical factories.”[ii]

“The Pakistan border has been the main entry point of drugs into Punjab. According to Commandant R K Arora, a serving officer with the Border Security Force (BSF) and a professor at the Sardar Patel University of Police, Security and Criminal Justice, the origin of the drugs lies in Afghanistan which is the world’s largest producer of heroin. From there the drugs reach Pakistan and enter India through the Indo-Pak border. A kilogram smuggled from across the border is valued nearly Rs 5 crore in the international market. “The price in Afghanistan is pretty less. When it enters Pakistan, it costs somewhere between Rs 1.5 lakh and Rs 5 lakh. Once the drug enters India, the cost shoots up 10 to 15 times to around 20- 25 lakh,” he says.”[iii]

Relation of Drugs with Politics and Terrorism

In the last few years, while the business and economy in the state kept sliding, the drugs trade flourished. With addicts turning peddlers and several reports of political patronage to the drugs trade, heroin became a veritable business in Punjab. The business of drugs sprawls from the poppy fields of Afghanistan to the farms of rural Punjab and drawing rooms of Ludhiana and Chandigarh, involving a vast variety of actors such as the unemployed rural youth, urban rich brats, college girls, housewives and even cops.[iv]

Indian security agencies have, in recent months, seen increased activity along the International Border (IB) in Punjab, with the delivery of drugs and ammunition both increasing – and the use of drones to make such deliveries possible across the border. Punjab Police has also arrested several Khalistan terror groups’ over-ground workers, who have been conspiring.[v] Terrorism needs huge sums of money to carry out its operation. Since it is difficult to acquire that sum from official and legal sources, terrorists approach drug syndicates and underworld dons for cooperation. The criminal chiefs and drug smugglers too find the proposal attractive because it gives them an opportunity to collaborate with aspirants of political power (terrorists) and thereby gives them access to politics in due course of time.[vi]

Many social activists have said that the practice of widespread abuse of drugs in the State has been controlled and nurtured by the drug cartels. The election campaigns of many politicians have been financed by these cartels.[vii]

Judicial Approach

In August 2017, Justice Amol Rattan Singh of the high court directed the states of Punjab and Haryana to ensure mandatory recording by digital cameras during patrolling and investigation of cases, especially in the case pertaining to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.

The landmark judgments that the Punjab & Haryana High Court made in this regard are that of Baljinder Singh and Khushi Khan[viii] in 2019. In  this case, the Court laid down directions to the State of Punjab referring to the directions issued by the Delhi High Court in Aasha v. State Government of N.C.T. of Delhi and Anr.[ix].:-

1. The State Government is directed to launch special awareness drives to make the people aware of the ill-effects of drugs on the society. The Deputy Commissioner of the district shall be the Nodal Officer to make the citizens aware of the ill-effects of the drugs and controlling the same. The State Government shall make sufficient provisions for awareness drives through electronic media, print media, internet, radio television etc.

2. The State Government is directed to provide latest kits to the Investigating Officers to investigate the matters under the Opium Act, NDPS Act and other allied Acts and also to hold refresher course periodically to 53 of 60 apprise the police personnel the procedure to be adopted while conducting investigation under the NDPS Act. The State of Punjab is directed to issue direction to the police department that complainant should not be I.O. to obviate bias.

3. The State Government through the Director General of Police is directed to register cases against the kingpins under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, 2002 at the time of lodging the FIR under the NDPS Act and Opium Act and also, if necessary, by attaching their properties provisionally relating to supply of poppy straw, coca plant and coca leaves, prepared opium, opium poppy and opium, opium by cultivator, cannabis plant and cannabis, manufactured drugs and preparation and psychotropic substances including artificial drugs etc.

4. Since the drugs menace has attained alarming proportion, the State Government is directed to establish Rehabilitation Centers in each district of the State within a period of six months from today. The rehabilitation centers shall provide all the basic necessities to the inmates including boarding, lodging, counseling etc.

5. The State Government is directed to appoint one Psychiatrist for counseling in each Rehabilitation Center.

The Counselor appointed in rehabilitation center shall 54 of 60 also visit all the schools falling in his jurisdiction advising the students about the ill-effects of drugs.

6. All the educational institutions i.e. government run, government aided, private schools, minority institutions, are directed to appoint the senior-most teacher as the Nodal Officer to counsel the students on every Friday of the month about the ill-effects of drugs.

In case, he finds any drugs abuse or symptoms, he shall be at liberty to summon the parents of students. The parents will be sensitized against the drugs abuse in parent-teacher meetings.

7. The State Government is directed to ensure to post one plain-clothes policeman from 8 AM to 6 PM around all the educational institutions to nab the drugs peddlers and kingpins. The local intelligence units are directed to keep a close watch on the shops including Dhabas, tuck shops, Khokas, tea stalls to ensure that the owners thereof are not permitted to indulge in the sale of drugs etc.

8. The Drugs Inspector while raiding the factories, industries, medical shops shall be accompanied by a person not below the rank of the Assistant Commissioner of Police including the Gazetted Officer from the Food and Supplies Department.

9. The Assistant Commissioner of Police of the concerned district shall personally monitor all the cases 55 of 60 registered under the Opium Act and the NDPS Act, 1985 to plug the loopholes during the course of enquiry and investigation to increase the conviction rate.

10. The Executive Magistrates and the Gazetted officers throughout the State shall be informed about their duties to be discharged under the NDPS Act more particularly, under Section 50 and the latest law laid down by the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India and by this Court from time to time.

11. The Police Officers shall ensure that no minor is served any drugs, alcoholic beverages in any medical shops, bars, restaurants and through vend. No vend shall supply/sell the liquor to any minor. In the eventuality of liquor being supplied/sold to a minor, the licence issued for bar/vend shall be cancelled after putting them to notice. This direction shall be complied with by the police force as well as by the Excise Department. The concerned Assistant Commissioner of Police shall visit every medical shop at least within 24 hours to check the supply of drugs to any minor.

12. The Director General of Police, State of Punjab, is directed to revamp, restructure strengthen special task force.

13. The District Narcotics Cells constituted by the State of Punjab shall immediately undertake the following tasks: –

i). Each Anti Narcotics Cell is directed to identify such area in the district in which there are complaints of sale of drugs or where the drugs addicts are found operating based on these information, the local police shall immediately take necessary steps to bust/apprehend such peddlers who are active in drugs trafficking.

ii). As a further action, such potential suppliers shall also be identified by Anti Narcotics Cell as well as local police and action as per law should be taken against them.

iii). The Anti Narcotic Cell shall take action against the abettors and conspirators, aiding the sale of drugs as per Section 29 of the NDPS Act.

iv). Each Police station throughout State of Punjab shall prepare database/record of all individuals, who were previously involved in NDPS Act cases or have pending cases registered against them under NDPS Act and requisite surveillance will be undertaken qua on them so that substantive as well as preventive actions can be taken against them.

v). The Director, Education is directed to provide the list of vulnerable Government schools, Government aided Schools, Public Schools and Minority Schools for monitoring and curbing availability and peddling the drugs and narcotics substances among school going children to the police authorities. Local Police shall take proactive and ensure Zero Tolerance on this issue. All out efforts shall be made to identify such elements and in case any peddler is identified, immediate action shall be taken against him.

vi). The Anti Narcotic Cell shall take action against unscrupulous elements who are involved in sale of Pharmaceutical product without 57 of 60 prescription which is to be used as a narcotics substance.

vii). There shall be regular training for capacity building and improving the investigating as well as intelligence collection skills of the investigating officer with regard to detection and investigation of NDPS Act related cases.

viii). The emphasis shall also be on the public schools. The Director Higher Education and Director School Education shall also visit the public schools. The free access shall be given to the Management to the School to the high ranking officers.

14. The State Government is directed to increase public awareness in the society. The Police shall be sensitized qua street peddlers. The Police shall be trained to deal with peddlers.

15. The State Government is directed to develop special, mobile, anti-peddling squads of police with jurisdiction of all over the cities and adjoining areas.

16. The State Government through the Secretary, Education is directed to include a mandatory and comprehensive chapter on drug abuse and illicit trafficking and its socio-economic cost to self, society and the country in the syllabus for 10+1 and 10+2 students.

17. The local police is directed to pay special attention to areas surrounding schools including Government schools, Government aided Schools, Public Schools and 58 of 60 Minority Schools, colleges, Universities and coaching Centres in their efforts to tackle drug peddlers.

18. The School Management, Principals and Teachers shall be encouraged sensitized to look out for peddlers in their vicinity and report them to police immediately.

19. All the schools throughout of State Government including Government, Government aided, minority institutions, public schools, Universities, colleges, Polytechnic colleges and Coaching Centres are directed to constitute anti-drug clubs to promote a drug free life among its members and also in the institution.

20. The State Government is also directed to sensitize the Prison staff in detecting and seizing drugs in prisons.

21. The Prisons shall be equipped with sniffer dogs to check the visitors and packages for drugs in the entry and exiting points. All the addicts within the prison including open jail shall be registered and compulsorily sent for de-addiction.

22. Every prisoner entering in the prison shall be tested for addiction and shall be de-addicted if he is found to be addicted.

23. All the prisoners who are arrested in crimes before their production in a court by an arresting agency shall be examined by the doctor and Doctor shall record their history or symptoms, if any of drug abuse. Wherever an arrested person shows signs of addiction, the police 59 of 60 should take him to a doctor or a hospital to determine, if he is an addict, and if so, take measures to treat him.

24. There should be coordination amongst the school authorities, police authorities and hospitals/ rehabilitation centres.

25. The State is directed to strictly enforce Section 71 of the NDPS Act.

Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985

In India, Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 deals with production, possession, manufacture, transportation etc. of drugs and its punitive measures.

India is a party to the three United Nations drug conventions – the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961 Convention), the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances (1971 Convention) and the 1988 Convention against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (1988 Convention). Domestic legislation to give effect to these treaties was introduced only in the 1980s when the ‘grace period’ for abolishing non-medical use of cannabis and opium under the 1961 Convention expired. Exercising its powers to make law for the country for implementing “any treaty, agreement or convention or decision made at international conference”, the Indian Parliament passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985 (NDPS Act) hastily, without much debate. The NDPS Act came into force on 14 November 1985, replacing the Opium Acts and the Dangerous Drugs Act. The 1940 Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, however, continues to apply.[x]

Reason for its failure in Punjab

A report by Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy based on detailed quantitative analysis of 13,350 cases registered in Special Courts in Punjab under the NDPS Act between 2013 and 2015, is quite damning in its findings and says that “The NDPS Act has failed to meet its twin objectives of deterrence and rehabilitation in Punjab”. Punjab’s all-India share of crimes under Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act climbed from 9.2% in 2001 to a peak of 42.3% in 2013.

The report suggests that

  1.  A 2009 change in the NDPS Act might actually have helped in pushing up quantum of convictions and sentencing in comparison to similar offences (involving pharmaceutical drug abuse) which were conducted in the past. While opium and poppy husk continue to be the predominant drug choice in Punjab, the government’s crackdown on traditional opium supply routes to deal with the drug problem has led to a proliferation in use of pharmaceutical drugs as well.
  2. Sentencing in pharmaceutical cases is extremely arbitrary in the courts. According to the report, four cases in Patiala district, where 500 tablets of diphenoxylate were seized saw sentencing ranging between three months to three years.
  3. While the state has been handing out disproportionate punishments to accused, who are probably drug-users (many of them even first-time offenders) rather than peddlers, it has done little in terms of rehabilitating those who have become addicted to use of drugs.
  4. Limited infrastructure which is available is not being used effectively due to lack of focus on rehabilitation in the criminal justice system.
  5. Sections 39 and 64A of the NDPS Act allow people caught with small quantities of drugs, or with drugs for personal con­sumption, to opt for de-addiction treatment in a government-approved centre instead of imprisonment or prosecution. But responses to RTIs we filed clearly establish that between 2013 and 2015, no person brought before the court in Punjab was directed to de-addiction and rehabilitation through the courts. Various interviews with judges and lawyers revealed that this provision for diverting addicts was mostly unknown to the legal practitioners and judges”.’[xi]


The sad state of affairs and drug dependence in Punjab has grown in leaps and bounds. Even after stringent laws and control mechanisms that have put in place, the issue has seen no mitigation in severity. The drug issue needs to be viewed more seriously and conviction for abuse and trafficking should be a must. It can be concluded that the key to drug problem in Punjab is educating the new generation and providing them a safe and conducive environment for their development. A close-knit family and peer community may play a substantial role in reducing drug dependence by providing the needed emotional and financial support to prevent them from taking refuge in drugs or from making money through illegal means.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What number of people are drug-addicted in India?
  • As per the report of National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), about 62.5 million people use alcohol, 8.75 million use cannabis, 2 million use opiates and 0.6 million use sedatives or hypnotics in India.
  • According to the Punjab Opioid Dependence Survey, which was conducted in 2015 in 10 districts in the state by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, the estimated size of opioid-dependent population in Punjab is 2,32,856.[xii]

  • What are the steps taken by the incumbent government in Punjab to curb drug menace?
  1. The Special Task Force has been constituted which implements a three-pronged strategy of enforcement, deaddiction and prevention to combat the menace of drugs.
  2. A Comprehensive Action Plan against Drug Abuse has been put in place which is aimed at choking the supply of drugs through enforcement and reducing the demand through deaddiction and prevention.
  3. A multi-layered monitoring system and implementing mechanism with the Chief Minister at its head is operational.
  4. Outpatient treatment is being rendered at 168 Outpatient Opioid Assisted Treatment Clinics.
  5. A separate drug division has been created within the Department for Health for efficient drug administration and better monitoring of de-addiction.
  6. The Buddy Project has been implemented to make students aware of the ill-effects of drugs.[xiii]
  • Which is the most common drug used in Punjab?

The most common drug used by people of Punjab is chitta or heroin (53%), followed by opium and its by-products (33%).

  • What are the steps taken by Central Government in this regard?

‘The Government has taken several policy and other initiatives to deal with drug trafficking problem.

  1. It constituted Narco-Coordination Centre (NCORD) in November, 2016 and revived the scheme of “Financial Assistance to States for Narcotics Control”.
  2. In 2017, the government approved new Reward Guidelines with increased quantum of reward for interdiction or seizure of different illicit drugs.
  3. For effective coordination with foreign countries, India has signed 37 Bilateral Agreements/Memoranda of Understanding.
  4. Narcotics Control Bureau has been provided funds for developing a new software i.e. Seizure Information Management System (SIMS) which will create a complete online database of drug offences and offenders.
  5. The government has constituted a fund called “National Fund for Control of Drug Abuse” to meet the expenditure incurred in connection with combating illicit traffic in Narcotic Drugs; rehabilitating addicts, and educating public against drug abuse, etc.
  6. The government is also conducting National Drug Abuse Survey to measure trends of drug abuse in India through Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment with the help of National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre of AIIMS.
  7. The Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has drafted National Action Plan for Drug Demand Reduction (2018-2023) for addressing the problem of drug and substance abuse in the country, dumping a long-pending draft policy on the matter.’[xiv]

Assessment Questions

  1. Which statute provides for prevention of drugs in India?
  2. Which landmark case laid down a series of instructions to the state government?
  3. Where are the drugs primarily produced?
  4. Which are the conventions to which India is a signatory?

Is drug costlier in India from its original place of production?

1 Bhuwan Sharma et al., Drug abuse: Uncovering the burden in rural Punjab, Europe PMC (July 14, 2020, 09:03 PM), https://europepmc.org/article/med/29417008.

[ii] Kshitij Bhargava, The Chitta economy: How the business of drugs works in Punjab, Economic Times ( July 15, 2020, 11:49 AM), https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/et-explains/the-chitta-economy-how-the-business-of-drugs-works-in-punjab/articleshow/65634397.cms.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] supra note 2 .

[v] Aditya Raj Kaul, Will Pakistan’s New ‘Khalistan Avatar’ Find Support In India?, The Quint (July 15, 2020, 04:24 PM), https://www.thequint.com/voices/opinion/india-pakistan-cross-border-terrorism-sikh-militancy-khalistan-movement-revival-punjab.

[vi] Dalvinder Singh Grewal, Drugs and Terrorism are Ruining Punjab, SikhNet (July 15, 2020, 04:34 PM), https://www.sikhnet.com/news/drugs-and-terrorism-are-ruining-punjab.

[vii] Rahul Verma & Pranav Gupta, Punjab elections 2017: Of deras, dynasties, and drugs, The Hindu (July 15, 2020, 04:47 PM), https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/punjab-assembly-elections-2017-of-deras-dynasties-and-drugs/article17532507.ece

[viii]Baljinder Singh v. State of Punjab CRA-D-917-DB-2011; Khushi Khan v. State of Punjab CRA-D-923-DB-2011

[ix] Mr.Aasha Devi vs Mcd, Gnct Delhi CIC/DS/C/2013/000235, https://indiankanoon.org/doc/22055191/.

[x] Tripti Tandon, Drug Policy in India, International Drug Policy Consortium ( July 15, 2020, 01:35 PM), https://idhdp.com/media/400258/idpc-briefing-paper_drug-policy-in-india.pdf.

[xi] Roshan Kishore, NDPS Act fails to curb Punjab drug menace, says report, Hindustan Times (July 15, 2020, 05:26 PM), https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/ndps-act-fails-to-curb-punjab-drug-menace-says-report/story-RougDyolWkjeV5i8chfjwL.html.

[xii] supra note 2.

[xiii] IANS, Punjab govt takes concrete steps to end drug addiction in youth, over 3 lakh drug addicts treated in 2018, National Herald (July 15, 2020, 06:11 PM), https://www.nationalheraldindia.com/national/punjab-govt-takes-concrete-steps-to-end-drug-addiction-in-youth-over-3-lakh-drug-addicts-treated-in-2018.

[xiv] ‘Prevalence and Extent of Substance Use in India’- survey, Insightsias (July 15, 2020, 06:17 PM), https://www.insightsonindia.com/2019/02/19/prevalence-and-extent-of-substance-use-in-india-survey/.

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