- Hardik Narayan Shukla
Trafficking and Addiction: India’s Experience with Drugs
India's proximity to the two principal areas of illicit opium production, the ‘Golden Triangle’ (area where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet) and the ‘Golden Crescent’ (comprising Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan), has made it the nucleus for trafficking of drugs and narcotics over the last three decades. As a consequence, the states bordering these production sites are extremely vulnerable to substance abuse – the excessive, irrational and unscientific use of drugs or other psychotropic substances.
Even during the ongoing pandemic, the record seizures being made by the drug authorities indicate how the drug dealers have changed their modus operandi to continue with their business. As soon as the country moved towards a phased unlock last year, drug cartels across the country became active to take advantage of the lucrative rise in demand for cannabis and other narcotics.
The recent surge in the production of Yaba tablets in Myanmar has been a cause of great worry for India. Yaba is a synthetic drug, made by mixing methamphetamine and caffeine, and sold as red or pink pills. It is widely produced in the Wa state of Myanmar and smuggled to several countries including India through the porous Indo-Myanmar border in the northeast. Owing to its cheap price, it is in great demand and attracts the Indian drug cartels.
Mizoram, which shares a 510 km long unfenced and porous border with Myanmar, has been facing the worst of this drug menace. Being a dry state, cheap and easy availability of drugs in the state has deteriorated the society. In the three months of 2021 alone, the Assam Rifles have recovered narcotics worth almost 250 million. Mizoram also acts as a conduit for the transhipment of drugs to other parts of the country, providing a lucrative opportunity to the unemployed youth. To prevent the young generation from falling into this vicious trap, Assam Rifles is conducting anti-drug campaigns and awareness drives on a regular basis.
Causes and Consequences
There are varied causes leading to an increase in substance abuse and illicit drug trafficking in India. For drug cartels and peddlers, the sole motivation behind producing and selling drugs is ‘money’. So, poverty and unemployment seem to be crucial factors influencing youth to take up drugs.
However, these are not the only causes to be considered. Drug addiction, being a dynamic problem, generates from several other social and mental causes. Mental issues like rise in stress levels, depression and anxiety have a fair share in developing drug habits among people. Also, peer pressure and the lack of awareness among adolescents induce them to experiment with intoxicants like drugs and eventually make them slip into a cesspool of drug abuse.
No matter what the cause, substance abuse badly deteriorates an individual’s health and the health of the society in general. At family level, it leads to an increase in cases of domestic violence and ruins the financial condition. At the societal level, it leads to the increase in the crime rates. Moreover, drug trafficking across the border puts a country’s security at stake. Hence, India tries to secure all its porous borders by deploying paramilitary in all these sensitive areas. Lastly, the point that excessive use of drugs is life-threatening is alone sufficient to make us prevent drug abuse and endorse responsible drug use. The state of Punjab and north-eastern states like Mizoram are chief zones trying to grapple with all these problems at present.
Cannabis – Not Just a Plant for India!
It is worth noting that in the modern era, we are surrounded by a variety of artificial drugs, which apart from being put in medical use, are in high demand across the world to derive short-term pleasure. These are way more harmful if consumed regularly or excessively in the long run. On the other hand, if we talk about natural drugs, derived mainly from plants and herbs, we come to know that the Indian subcontinent has a long history of the use of such plants, for both medicinal and recreational purposes.
The famous cannabis plant has a deep-rooted history with India, which dates back to as early as 2000 BCE. The word ‘Bhang’, which commonly refers to a preparation using the leaves and seeds of the cannabis plant, is mentioned in several Indian texts dated before 1000 BCE. The Atharva Veda (c. 1500-1000 BCE), mentions Bhang among the five most sacred plants on earth that help a person to overcome anxiety or distress. Moreover, the Sushruta Samhita (c. 600 BCE) mentions it as a medicinal plant and recommends it for treating catarrh, phlegm and diarrhea. Thus, it can be inferred that our ancestors appreciated cannabis for its medicinal properties.
In addition to this, cannabis also became a part of Indian culture. This can be understood by Thandai and other preparations of bhang, which form an integral part of our celebrations in Holi and Mahashivaratri.
The fact that India voted in favour of reclassification of cannabis in the recent meeting of United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs is being seen as an important step towards decriminalization of marijuana, paving way for its legalization.
It’s important to mention here that the decision of the 1961 treaty of Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs to classify cannabis as a ‘hard drug’ was strongly opposed by the Indian delegation on grounds of the social and cultural use of the plant in India. Considering this, the final definition of cannabis included ‘flowering or fruiting tops (excluding seeds and leaves when not accompanied by tops) from which resin is not extracted. This gave way to large-scale consumption of bhang (prepared from seeds and leaves of cannabis), especially during special occasions like Holi. India was also offered an exemption of 25 years by the treaty to effectively clamp down on recreational drugs. After the end of this relaxation period, the first major act was passed to enforce drug control measures, namely the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.
Laws and Loopholes:
Since its independence until the 1980s, India didn’t feel the need to make any regulation against substance abuse or drug control. This was partly because of the small-scale supply and consumption of drugs. It was only in 1985 that our Parliament passed the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS Act), which was formulated to fulfill the obligations of the treaties India signed internationally.
The NDPS act states that it is illegal for a person to produce/ manufacture/cultivate, possess, sell, purchase, transport, store and/or consume any narcotic drug or psychotropic substance. It includes a list of more than 200 substances which are banned in India. Subsequently, the Narcotics Control Bureau was created in 1986 and the Prevention of Illicit Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act was passed in 1988. These were maintained to strengthen the NDPS Act and ensure its full implementation. The NDPS Act underwent amendment recently in 2014 to facilitate better medical access of narcotic drugs. It introduced a new class of “Essential Narcotic Drugs” and kept these under the central government.
This act provides a strict framework for punishing offences related to illicit traffic or abuse of any controlled substance through imprisonments and forfeiture of property. All the measures discourage people and also induce a fear among drug peddlers and traffickers.
Positive Aspects of this Act:
A remarkable feature of this act includes sentencing purely on the basis of quantity of drug use/abuse. So, if the drug is mixed with any neutral substance, the accused will be punished only on account of the original quantity of the drug. This seems quite fair in the sense that severe punishments will be offered only to serious cases of offence.
The provision for treatment and rehabilitation is another salient feature of this act. Drug dependent people, who are charged with consumption or an offence involving a small quantity of drugs, can choose to undergo treatment and be exempt from prosecution under Section 64 A. Also, courts can divert such people to a recognized medical facility for detoxification, instead of sentencing under Section 39. All this helps drug addicts to get treated and lead better lives through rehabilitation.
Flaws in the Act:
It has been found that many convicts charged with drug related offences spend years in jail before their cases finally come up for hearing, a direct consequence of the notoriously slow pace of the Indian judicial system. This delay in trial can have a devastating effect on minor offenders, who may be recruited in organized crime rackets if kept in jails for a long time.
Another administrative flaw is that we lack in collecting and maintaining regular data which includes the extent of drug use in India and people’s dependence on a particular type of drug. This data can be crucial in monitoring and preventing drug abuse and illicit trafficking.
In this context, it is noteworthy to mention an interesting development regarding the NDPS Act. According to a latest article in The Indian Express, an oversight in drafting the 2014 amendments to the NDPS Act, 1985 had unintentionally rendered a key provision of the Act inoperable. This was brought to light by the Tripura High Court in a recent verdict. This drafting error, however insignificant, may raise several constitutional questions around this act.
Drugs can be referred to as a ‘double-edged sword’. If they are taken in a controlled amount under medical supervision, they may cure several harmful diseases. On the other hand, the overdose and uncontrolled use of the same may induce dependence on drugs, leading to addiction. On a broader scale, this may increase problems of drug abuse and illicit trafficking for a country like India. Thus, everyone should be made aware about the seriousness of this issue and all possible efforts should be made in the direction of creating an “Addiction Free India”.
By Hardik Narayan Shukla