What has really alarmed the police, and also the families of young drug abusers, is the entry of “chitta” -- a highly refined white powdery semi-synthetic substance (mainly heroine) -- into the drug scene and has spread like wildfire among the state's youth. Ashwani Sharma reports.
Till a decade ago, Himachal Pradesh was infamous for being north India's biggest producer of marijuana, an illegal drug sourced from cannabis, a naturally growing weed in the higher altitude mountain ranges and inaccessible valleys of Kullu-Manali. Nevertheless, there was not too much of worries or any kind of alarm about the menace of drug abuse in the hills.
That honour went to Punjab, which was then bearing the brunt of drug-trafficking and the consequent alarming rise in cases of narcotics abuse among youths and deaths due to drug overdose.
Today, the situation is no better in Himachal Pradesh -- where a large number of youth are either drug abusers or addicts, and even peddlers. More than three dozen deaths as a result of drug overdoses in the past two years, is clear indication that the hill state is fast becoming another drug capital.
Admits Inspector General of Police (intelligence) Daljeet Thakur, “Though as such we don't have an exact percentage of youths into drugs, I can only say the ratio is high. Girls are also among a large percentage of drug abusers. It’s a big challenge which the government, including the police, is facing.”
What has really alarmed the police, and also the families of young drug abusers, is the entry of “chitta” -- a highly refined white powdery semi-synthetic substance (mainly heroine) -- into the drug scene.
“This is the most dangerous form of the drug being consumed by teenage addicts. They are school and college going boys and girls who are totally unaware of its consequences. Anyone taking its dose continuously for three or four times, is sure to become an addict. Most cases of overdose deaths are caused by chitta,” says O P Sharma, a citizens’ activist and former officer with the Narcotics Control Bureau.
Despite several acres of cannabis, grown in Kullu and elsewhere including Mandi, Shimla, Chamba, Sirmaur districts, nothing has ever caused such alarm as the entry of chitta. Most drug peddlers, who were operating in Punjab, have, in fact, shifted their base to Himachal Pradesh, a new market to lure youth to drugs.
Apart from Shimla and Solan districts, where supplies are coming directly from Delhi and Chandigarh, even towns like Kullu-Manali, Rampur, Rohru, Una -- which borders Punjab -- the entire Kangra district including Dharamshala and McLeodganj towns and Nahan in Sirmaur district and Reckong Peo (in Kinnaur) have chitta abusers.
As per the going rates, chitta is also the most expensive drug. Every 10 gm of chitta costs Rs 4,000 to 4,500.
Reveals a 21-year old girl who has been into drugs for the last year, “I used to party a lot with friends, and often consume alcohol. One day I was given a tiny dose of chitta free of cost by a friend who used to go with me for coaching classes. I became an addict. I used to lie to my parents to get extra money on the pretext of going to parties, buying books or paying my tuition fees. I also started peddling to fund my doses. Fortunately, I realised my folly and now I am doing good."
"Those taking drugs in the form of injectibles and use syringes frequently also make themselves vulnerable to AIDS and hepatitis," warns Dr R S Minhas, a senior doctor at the Indira Gandhi Medical College Hospital, Shimla.
The police claims that though they have been able to track several drug abusers through intelligence gathering, many parents try to hide the matter or defend their children.
“In Kullu itself, we managed to track down 100 to 150 drug abusers/addicts whose names were with a local doctor treating them. We immediately summoned their parents and did counselling. It paid off," says Gaurav Singh, superintendent of police, Kullu.
With Kullu being the hub of the marijuana trade, particularly charas (almost a local produce), Singh has started a special drive to smash the smuggling racket. Teams were also sent to some of the potential cannabis growing valleys, which had so far remained untouched due to the inaccessible terrain. Cannabis grown on the private land of some 15 persons was destroyed. Some Nepalis who were to cart nearly 100 kg of charas from Gohar area were intercepted and arrested, the SP of Kullu informed Rediff.com over the phone.
The state CID (intelligence) is planning to use drones to survey all cannabis growing areas and launch massive operations to destroy the crop before it is harvested, says IGP Daljeet Thakur.
But, the real challenge for the state agencies is not charas, feels Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur. It’s the entry of chitta into the market.
“We have held two rounds of meetings with chief ministers of all northern states in Chandigarh at my initiative and formed a joint strategy. Information sharing on peddlers and movement of drugs to the state, is one of the key components. The fact remains that the problem has to be dealt on the ground. The role of parents and society is paramount,” Thakur stressed, while admitting that the problem of drug abuse is far more serious issue than he ever thought.
His fears are not unfounded. A police helpline, ‘Nisha Niwaran', started some months back, gets eight to 10 calls every day.
“Twenty per cent of these callers lodge complaints and also provide information about the drug peddling. More than five percent of them also seek counselling. But, a large number of the callers make missed calls, perhaps being too scared to interact,” informs Karanpal Chauhan, a young start-up entrepreneur who provides assistance to the police in handling the helpline inflow.
Data with the state's crime branch shows the first eight months of this year saw 1,100 arrests that included 73 foreigners, and a total of 863 cases registered under the NDPS Act. In 2018, there were 1,645 arrests, including of 67 foreigners, in 1,341 cases.
Ashwani Sharma is a senior Shimla-based journalist who was formerly with the Indian Express as its bureau chief.