Tarsem Jodhan at the campaign rally. Picture by Arnab Ganguly
Dakha (Ludhiana), Jan. 22: A candidate for the Punjab Assembly elections has demanded the legalisation of opium to tackle the drug menace in the state.
Tarsem Jodhan, a former CPM legislator who is contesting the Dakha seat, near Ludhiana, on a Democratic Swaraj Party ticket, is focusing on this issue during his campaign. "Opium is not a killer like heroin and other synthetic drugs," he said at Dakha's Ranga Chowk before addressing a rally.
Jodhan is being backed by the Punjab Front formed by suspended Aam Aadmi Party MP Dharam Vir Gandhi.
The drug problem in Punjab is a major poll plank for the Congress and the AAP against the ruling Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine in the February 4 elections.
Both Punjab Congress president Amarinder Singh and AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal have promised to make Punjab drug-free within a month of coming to power. Kejriwal has also promised to put Bikramjit Singh Majithia, the Punjab revenue minister accused of backing drug rackets, behind bars before April 15.
Tarsem, 65, dismissed the claims of Amarinder and Kejriwal as " jumlebazi (rhetoric)".
"How are they going to do it? Making tall claims is not enough. Legalising opium and reducing the intake of synthetic drugs are the only option available. Forget one month, if we can eradicate the problem in 10 years it would be good," he said.
The Punjab Opioid Dependence Survey conducted by experts from AIIMS and an NGO between February and April 2015 in 10 districts had revealed that 99 per cent of the male population were dependent on drugs. Of this, 76 per cent were in the age group of 18-35. About 54 per cent of these people were addicted to heroin and 35 per cent used injectible drugs.
The study had also estimated that those dependent on drugs were spending a total of around Rs 20 crore a day on such substances. According to the report, the treatment of each drug user at de-addiction centres would take 10 years.
"Sending the drug users to jail is not the answer. The government should set up licensed stores for selling opium as prescribed drug. Counselling and rehabilitation centres should be set up by the state health department," Tarsem said.
The United Nations Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs in 1961 had authorised India to produce gum opium. Under the supervision of the Central Bureau of Narcotics, opium is produced in Rajasthan's Chittorgarh, Madhya Pradesh's Mandsaur, Ratlam, Neemuch and Uttar Pradesh's Barabanki, Bareilly, Lucknow and Faizabad.
Tarsem demanded that the Centre allow production in Punjab as well.
Senior Congress leader and former Union minister Anand Sharma holds a different view. "We are completely against any drugs. If the Congress comes to power, the issue will be dealt with strictly," Sharma said in Chandigarh today.
No AAP leader was available for comment.