While Militancy Made Headlines, Drug Addiction Quietly Spiked in Kashmir

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But the state’s judiciary and civil administration have expressed concern over the growing drug menace.

JAMMU — Over the last “five to six years”, 968 quintals, or 96.8 tonnes, equivalent to 12 truckloads (at 8 tonnes per truck), of narcotic drugs have been seized, the state’s home department revealed–in an order issued on September 25, 2017 asking police officers to follow standard operating procedure while dealing with cases registered under the NDPS Act.

Despite the seizure, “the problem has not received due attention of investigators and the prosecutors,” the order said. “As a result the number of acquittals in such cases greatly outnumbered the convictions, as for every conviction there are about nine acquittals.”

Between 2014 and August 2017, 118 kg of heroin was seized, according to Vaid. In the same period, as many as 18,435 drug addicts reported for treatment at the two hospitals associated with the Government Medical College (GMC) in Srinagar and a Drug De-addiction Center (DDC) run by the Jammu & Kashmir police in the city, official data at the two hospitals and DDC revealed.

“In the early 1980s, when doctors at a Srinagar Hospital found that a patient was a heroin addict, it was such an unusual experience that the matter was brought to the notice of the then chief minister,” said Arshad Hussain, a leading psychiatrist in Kashmir who treats mental health patients at the two GMC hospitals in Srinagar.

The subcontinent was dealing with an opioids boom in the 1980s, but Kashmir stayed trouble-free, Hussain pointed out. Now, he and his colleagues are witnessing a very different situation, he added.

Vaid’s statement did not elicit any response from political parties, civil society groups or citizens. This could imply widespread knowledge of the problem. It could be also because of the general cynicism with which citizens here greet statements made by security agencies, often accused of twisting Kashmir’s political narrative.

Many farmers in southern Kashmir have been growing poppy to supplement their incomes since at least the late 1980s, finding a ready market in nearby states such as Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan.

But the state’s judiciary and civil administration have expressed concern over the growing drug menace. On August 20, 2017, the Jammu & Kashmir high court directed the state government to “revisit the issue relating to control of drugs as per the experience gathered from other states and various international forums dealing with the control of drug addiction”.

In September 2017, chief minister Mehbooba Mufti directed senior police officials to use the most draconian laws, including the Public Safety Act (PSA)–a law under which a person can be detained without trial for upto two years–against those involved in the cultivation and smuggling of drugs.

Drugs easily available, poppy cultivation spreads across Kashmir

The most important reason for growing drug addiction is the easy availability of drugs, said Hussain.

“There are some rural areas where buses do not go but opioids do. And cannabis is available more easily than cigarettes,” he said. “We need purposeful policing if we have to stop the circulation of drugs.”

That poppy and cannabis cultivation is spreading is confirmed by official agencies as well. “Some years ago, poppy cultivation was restricted to Kashmir’s southern parts. But, poppy cultivation has now spread to the northern and central parts of the region as well,” said Shamim Ahmad, an officer with the state’s excise department. He leads a team that is tasked with destroying poppy and cannabis crops.

Many farmers in southern Kashmir have been growing poppy to supplement their incomes since at least the late 1980s, finding a ready market in nearby states such as Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan. Law enforcement agencies have been taking action, even destroying crops, but they haven’t been able to prevent the spread of poppy cultivation in the state.

Ahmad and his seniors at the excise department have built an extensive network of informers, many of them volunteers. Since 2008, the team has destroyed poppy crops over 2,080 acres and cannabis crops over 5,365 acres, mostly in south Kashmir. — Kashmir Times

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