Faced with criticism from several quarters over alleged spate of deaths due to drug overdose in the state, Punjab cabinet on Monday decided to recommend to the Centre death penalty for drug peddlers and smugglers.
The move was aimed to act as a deterrent to the heinous crime, which was "destroying" the lives of youth in Punjab and many other places.
The decision was taken at a meeting of the Cabinet, chaired by Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh, which resolved to send a formal recommendation soon to the Union government to this effect, according to an official spokesperson.
The chief ninister had called for the meeting to discuss the issue, particularly in the context of the recent spate of deaths due to alleged drug overdose and adulterated drugs in the state.
Opposition parties including the Aam Aadmi Party and the Shiromani Akali Dal have been criticising the 15-month old Captain Amarinder Singh led Congress government for allegedly failing to contain drug menace in the state despite promising before assembly polls wiping out drugs within four weeks.
There was a widespread outrage over the deaths of youths in several parts of Punjab because of drug overdose and a campaign against drugs called 'Black week against Chitta' was being observed by some activists in the state starting from July 1 in the wake of drug abuse.
The Cabinet also decided to constitute a special working group under the chairmanship of additional chief secretary-home N S Kalsi to review and monitor, on a day-to-day basis, the action being taken to check and control drug abuse.
The special working group constituted to review and update the government strategy against drugs will have ACS-health, DGP law and order, DGP intelligence and ADGP STF as members, the spokesperson said after the meeting.
A cabinet sub-committee has also been formed under the chairmanship of the chief minister, with the special working group mandated to report directly to it.
Health and social security ministers have been appointed members of the sub-committee which will meet once a week to take stock of the situation and review the progress of the anti-drug campaign of the government, the spokesperson said.
Before the meeting started, all members of the Cabinet observed a two-minute silence as a mark of respect to the Sikhs killed in the Afghanistan attack, as well as the youth who have died due to drug overdose and the farmers who have committed suicide in the state.
The formal meeting was preceded by informal discussions, during which senior Home Department and Punjab Police officers briefed the cabinet members, who were also joined by PPCC president Sunil Jakhar.
During discussions, the CM ordered DGP Suresh Arora to intensify the police crackdown on the drug menace.
The Cabinet took stock of the cases of deaths resulting from drug overdose, which Special Task Force chief H S Sidhu said was a matter of concern.
H S Sidhu suggested registration of all such cases to enable the identification and mitigation of risk factors, such as supply of spurious drugs and mixing of drugs with other death-causing substances.
ACS Home NS Kalsi asked the DGP to review the drug scenario across the state with SSPs on a fortnightly basis.
Those found not performing up to the mark should be taken to task and adverse remarks should be penned in their ACRs, he suggested.
Citing data relating to arrests and seizures under the NDPS Act, DGP Suresh Arora pointed out that there had been a sharp increase in the figures since the Captain Amarinder government took over.
Seizure of heroin had then gradually declined over a period of time, underling the effectiveness of the action undertaken by police, STF and various central agencies, he said.
This was aided by additional BSF deployment and upgradation of surveillance technology and other infrastructure at the border, he added.
It was possible that the resultant shortage of drugs was forcing addicts to resort to consumption of adulterated drugs, which could be leading to deaths, DGP said, adding that the cause of death in such cases would, however, be established by the report of the chemical examiner.
Local government minister Navjot Singh Sidhu expressed concern at the public perception that the government had not succeeded in eliminating the drug menace.
As a corrective measure, Advocate General Atul Nanda mooted the creation of a special cadre of at least 15 well-trained prosecutors to secure conviction of drug offenders in an effective manner.
Secretary School Education Krishan Kumar told the meeting about the steps taken to sensitise students from Class VI onwards about drugs and their ill-effects, with special chapters having been included in Physical Education text books.