Understanding how drug addiction crept into the region of heaven where people are thought to be living in peace—where they are supposed to be in peace—and whether punishment is the only effective way to stop this menace are crucial to combating the "Drug Menace" as a major threat to life and young lives. The drug problem in J&K is caused by a number of external and internal reasons, both of which exacerbate the situation. Drugs can easily enter every district of the erstwhile State and due to the region's geographical proximity to international border. Other internal variables include the unrest in the area and, of course, the high unemployment rate, which makes it relatively simple for youth to use drugs as a means of escaping reality. There are other causes too for the rise of abuse but certainly the most contributing factors are these two in the current times. All these factors targeted youth and there is growing frustration and helplessness among them.
A comprehensive piece of legislation that regulates drug possession, use, and sale is the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS Act), passed in 1985. Since its inception, the Act has drawn a variety of criticisms on the grounds that it is harsh on addicts as well, who are merely patients and nothing more. The various amendments of the Act aim to (a) prevent drug trafficking through harsh penalties and (b) achieve drug addict rehabilitation. The law provides for medical treatment and de-addiction for individuals identified as drug addicts.
The NDPS Act has failed to meet its twin objectives of deterrence and rehabilitation in J&K.. The deterrent effect of the NDPS is nowhere to be seen as daily news reports of drug dealers being apprehended and shocking amounts of drugs being seized continuously appear, but we are also witnessing the spiralling effects of drug trafficking, which severely harm those who have developed drug dependence and are vulnerable to drug abuse. Despite the fact that real attempts are being made to halt drug trafficking, the effectiveness of these measures is called into question when we consider the ease with which drugs may be purchased in J&K.
On the count of rehabilitation, the government's efforts to set up drug rehabilitation facilities move slowly. There is an urgent need for new drug rehabilitation facilities with up-to-date equipment and enough staff to achieve the desired results while also satisfying the goal of rehabilitation. Given the surge in danger and the horrifying picture of substance misuse that has afflicted every district, town, and mohalla, there is also a need to construct drug rehabilitation facilities in each hospital in the J&K. The overcrowded Government Psychiatric Hospital in Srinagar is the sole mental health institution in the valley. Drug Addicts (patients) from remote places, especially the poor, are unable to be transported to this clinic. The fact that we now lack the humane approach and appropriate care facilities needed to address the problem of drug addiction makes it worse for addicts, who are not any different from other patients with mental conditions.
"Imagine if the government chased sick people with diabetes, put a tax on insulin and drove it into a black market, told doctors that they couldn't treat them......then sent them to jail. If we did that, everyone would know we were crazy. Yet we do practically the same thing every day in the week to Sick people hooked on drugs" Swiss writer Johann Hari once told.
Numerous issues are being faced by our prison system, with most challenging one is overpopulation. According to the data this author obtained through RTI, J&K's prisons have an intake capacity of 3360 inmates yet 5236 inmates are currently being kept, which is a significant number. These numbers clearly show that, due to a lack of available capacity, our jails are unable to absorb new inmates every day. We need to look at the amount of inmates being kept for various offences, and when the majority of the convicts are being held under NDPS, it is definitely going to hit criminal justice system badly. The highest number of inmates to be placed under the NDPS is 1288 in August 2022, and the number then sharply declines to 728 in October this year. This reflects that either the people under NDPS gets acquitted or bailed out, the Courts understand this fact that keeping behind bars is the last resort. The numbers also show that all those released must be individuals from whom only small quantities of drugs have been found, and the law makes an exception for them because they are typically addicts rather than drug dealers. Additionally, there are currently hundreds of inmates awaiting trials but just 22 convictions under NDPS in J&K Prisons.
The law provides for th special provision for Addicts If they consent to receive medical treatment for de-addiction, addicts are exempt from prosecution for small-quantity drug offences and consumption under S.39 and S.64A of NDPS Act. If the addict doesn't receive the whole course of de-addiction treatment, the immunity could be revoked.
In addition, the Act provides for treatment and rehabilitation under S.71, which gives the government the authority to take any action relating to the identification, treatment, education, after-care, rehabilitation, and social reintegration of addicts. As many centres as it sees proper for the identification, management, and treatment of addicts may be established, recognised, or approved. Treatment for addicts in government hospitals is the duty of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare and the Health Departments of State Governments. The State Social Welfare Departments and the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment have been tasked with conducting drug demand reduction initiatives.
There are reportedly 70 thousand drug abusers living in the Kashmir division alone, with 31% of them being women, according to a report by the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP). Hypothetically going by these figures and the approach followed under NDPS, we would need to erect dozens of jails to house the 70 000 persons who would be arrested under the NDPS, which would place an undue burden on the judiciary. Is it feasible for such a huge infrastructure to be built with taxpayer money? We can afford to build centres for rehabilitation where patients can later successfully reintegrate into society who can contribute efficiently later. With the current jail system, however, it is impossible due to the unfriendly environment for rehabilitation.
Instead of condemning drug users for their actions, we need to re-evaluate our approach to this population and work to help them overcome it. "We have lost one generation by weapons and another generation by drugs," experts say in reference to the worsening conditions of J&K's young. Rehabilitation is the only treatment that will end this epidemic, and it is also supported by medical opinion. It is the society's responsibility to show these addicts compassion and understanding, not to throw them out, which would only serve to further alienate them from it. Experts believe that drug addicts might relate to the proverb "Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future." Addicts are dying every day, thus we need to prevent their deaths, which are achievable in hospitals/rehabilitation centres rather than prisons.
The author is a VALE Fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy ,New Delhi and a Law Graduate. Views are personal.