Were the Punjab drug problem figures misleadingly ‘high’?

During the run up to the Punjab Legislative Assembly elections held earlier this year, the political parties and politicians had talked at length about the ‘drug problem’ in Punjab, blaming the then existing government led by Shiromani Akali Dal, of being hand in glove with the menace. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) chief Arvind Kejriwal had also suggested that in November 2016, 40 lakh youth in Punjab was addicted to drugs and that AAP will end the drug menace within one month of coming to power. He had accused Bikramjit Majithia, the then Revenue Minister of Punjab, of patronizing multi-million rupee drug racket in the state. Kejriwal had also accused Captain Amarinder, now Chief Minister of Punjab, of taking ‘drug money’ from Majithia for his campaign.

In a twist of events, no evidence of Bikram Majithia’s involvement in drug racket has been found and ones who had campaigned about Akalis’ involvement in drug racket are eating their own words.

And along with this, the drug problem of Punjab seems to have miraculously vanished.

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Interestingly, as per study conducted by Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh, the estimated numbers of opioid addicts from two separate surveys, which varied greatly — but which were both minuscule compared with the staggering number that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had claimed five years ago. As per one study conducted by Epidemiology of Substance Use and Dependence in the State of Punjab, the estimate of drug addicts was 1.7 lakh, about 0.89% of Punjab’s adult population, while other estimated it at 2.7 lakh addicts, about 1.41% of Punjab’s adult population. In 2012, Rahul Gandhi had claimed that about 70% youth in Punjab is addicted to drugs.

As per this report in Indian Express, the magical figure of 70% youth in Punjab being drug addict seems to be misquoted. The 2012 speech of Rahul Gandhi is said to be based on a study conducted as many as six years back by Prof Sandhu of the Department of Sociology of Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU), Amritsar, on a direction from the then Governor of Punjab, Gen (retd) S F Rodrigues. Rahul had based his statement from an affidavit filed in Punjab and Haryana High Court in 2009 which cited GNDU study by Prof Sandhu. Prof Sandhu, however, says that his research was misquoted. He says he had interviewed about 600 drug addicts, of which about 73.5% were in the age gap of 16-35 years, which could be categorised into ‘youth’. The figure stuck and made the foundation of political campaigning.

Now with the elections in Punjab over, all news portals which were crying themselves hoarse over Punjab’s drug addiction problem are silent as if the menace has been cleared overnight.


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