Chandigarh: Punjab's poor health is worrying political parties, with the Congress concerned over the growing drug consumption and the BJP wanting a check on liquor consumption.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has spoken up over growing drug consumption in Punjab and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh too has again raised the issue.
The BJP, a coalition partner of the state's ruling Shiromani Akali Dal since 2007, has now called for checks on liquor consumption too.
Speaking at the 350th foundation day celebrations of Punjab's holy city of Anandpur Sahib on June 19, Rajnath Singh appealed to the youth to take a pledge against the drug menace.
"I want the youth of Punjab to take a pledge on this historic day that they will fight against drug menace wherever it exists," he said.
The BJP has also taken up the sale of liquor.
BJP vice president Avinash Rai Khanna and assistant media adviser to the state government Vineet Joshi, in a missive to Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, demanded that the liquor sale should be restricted between noon and 7 p.m. against the current 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Political observers say it's not only the multi-million dollar illicit drug trade but also issue of 'uninhibited' flow of liquor in Punjab has gone high, politically.
Khanna told IANS that he's surprised to see liquor shops open as early as 5 a.m., when milk shops are still to open.
For the past six months, BJP leaders, including union Minister Vijay Sampla and Khanna, have launched anti-drug campaign 'Quit and Kick Drug Movement' under the banner of Joshi Foundation.
Badal, who is under fire following allegations that his ministers are involved in drug trade, said Punjab has a glorious track record of fighting for safeguarding the country's unity and integrity.
"Now it's fighting country's war against drug menace due to which the state has been belittled by some inimical forces," he said in Muktsar town.
His assertions came when People's Party of Punjab president Manpreet Singh Badal said the problem of drug addiction raised by the home minister amounted to indictment of the state government.
Justifying the rise in drug cases, Badal said: "Punjab falls on the transit route of drug coming from across the border to be supplied in the entire country."
Studies by the Chandigarh-based Institute for Development and Communication say 70 percent of the drug addicts in Punjab are the youth.
"We have conducted two studies in Punjab and in both the studies we found that 70 percent of the addicts were the youth. This indicates the youth are more hooked to the drugs," its director Pramod Kumar told IANS.
But seizure of drugs by the Border Security Force (BSF) speaks how the state is becoming a base for a multi-million dollar narcotics trade.
Last year it seized 361 kg of heroin, worth over Rs.1,808 crore in the international market. It was the highest in a single year on the border with Pakistan in Punjab.
In 2013 and 2012, the seizure of heroin in Punjab was 322 kg and 288 kg, respectively.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who unsuccessfully contested the Amritsar Lok Sabha constituency in 2014, had in a post on his blog said: "Yesterday (April 17, 2014), I was addressing a public meeting at Rajasansi. The loudest cheer was reserved for a comment made against drug addiction in the state. Enthusiastic applause came from that section of the audiences where a large number of women were seated. This explains it all."
Interestingly, a village on the outskirts of Amritsar town, home to the Golden Temple and considered the holiest of Sikh shrines, is known as "village of widows".
A survey conducted by NGO Citizen Forum in Maqboolpura village says 382 women have lost their husbands and sons to the drug addiction.
Statistics with the state police department says from 2002-07, the tenure of Congress government led by Amarinder Singh, 22,938 people were arrested for drug-related offences.
Their number goes to 55,426 during the Shiromani Akali Dal-BJP combine government from 2007 to 2013. This government returned to power for its second term in 2012.
Former chief minister Amarinder Singh has been accusing state Revenue Minister Bikram Singh Majithia, the brother-in-law of the junior Badal, of being patronising drug trade.
Even the interrogation of drug racket kingpin Jagdish Singh Bhola, a dismissed police deputy superintendent of police and former international medal-winning wrestler, in February last year by the enforcement directorate has linked the names of Majithia and another minister Swaran Singh Phillaur to the drugs racket.