In response to a question raised by MP Mamunur Rashid Kiron on 15 June, 2017 in the National Parliament, the Home Minister informed the house that his Ministry is working to make certain reformations in the Narcotic Control Act 1990 leading to death penalty for the offences related to narcotic drugs abuse and psychotropic substances. The process will be finalised soon after consultations with concerned Ministries and Divisions. In fact, the Narcotic Control Act of 1990 is regarded as one of the stringent law prevailing in the country, whereas its weakness in enforcement continued to be a critical factor. Possibly, the MP raised this question by observing massive spread of abuse of drugs among youth in his areas whereas law enforcing agencies were found not vigilant as expected. The public at large became very much concerned about the widespread abuse of narcotic drugs and substances in the country. The Narcotic Control Department has frustrated the expectations of public to become deterrent against drug abuse.
The Ministry of Home Affairs on June 13, 2017 by a gazette notification has reconstituted the Narcotics Control Board with Ministers and State Ministers of 19 Ministries and Divisions where four social sector specialists will also be members of the Board. The Home Minister will be the Convener and Director General of Department of Narcotic Control will act as the Member –Secretary. It’s a noble initiative indeed.
The Finance Minister in his budget speech for 2017- 2018 has also expressed his anxiety on the abuse of drugs and Cigarette and Didi as stepping stone towards Narcotic drugs addition (Para 216). In his speech, he pointed out, “Bidi is not Bidi anymore. It is gradually becoming cigarette. Moreover, the size of the bidi industry worker has also shrunk by 90 per cent. Considering the health risk of people and the amount of treatment cost involved in it, I find no logical ground for this industry to survive. However, I am proposing to fix the tax inclusive price of 25 sticks of non-filter bidi at 15 Taka and 20 sticks of filter bidi at 15 Taka.”
At the same time, he has also pointed out about the e-cigarette [Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS)] which imposes similar threat to public health like bidi and cigarette but he proposed 100 Supplementary Duty on these items. He has not shown the courage to stop these bidi industries. In the year 1984, the government decided to stop the production of Cannabis in the country and stop its marketing and it was stopped in Bangladesh including the district of Naogaon, main location of Cannabis production.
The abuse of narcotics drugs has increased manifold in Bangladesh including its production and involvement of terrorists groups with this trade. Due to the location of Bangladesh in between golden triangle and golden crescent, trafficking of illicit drugs and psychotropic substances is getting increased taking the advantage of weak law enforcement agencies or their indirect collaboration with the trade. Besides, heroin, cocaine and dangerous precursors and chemicals are also getting routes of trafficking through Bangladesh territory, produced in Afghanistan or Pakistan and even products of South and Central America are getting routes in Bangladesh,
Such trans-national crime is conducted by organised crime groups and is getting stronger gradually. This is the reason for which the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has emphasised a political declaration and plan of actions on international cooperation towards an integrated and balanced strategy to counter such serious drug problems. According to UNODC about 200 millions people are using illicit drugs such as cocaine, cannabis, hallucinogens, opiates and seductive hypnotics.
Considering all these threats and possible public health disasters, on 7th December 1987 United Nations General Assembly Special Session decided to observe 26 June every year as the “International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking.” Since 1988, it is observed everywhere including Bangladesh, especially after the establishment of Narcotics Control Department in Bangladesh on 2nd January 1990 to raise awareness against drug abuse and about dangers of illicit drug.
The day, 26 June was chosen when the Chinese emperor Zexu has ordered to stop the opium trade on 26 June in the Heyuan city areas in the province of Guangdong after the first Opium War.
The Government of Pakistan has established the Narcotics Control Division as full Ministry to control the abuse of Narcotics Drugs and psychotropic substances. They have established a Narcotics Control Board and created a Tasks Force. In India, the Central Bureau of Narcotics under the Ministry of Finance is functional working under a guideline to control the production and marketing of cannabis, opium and chemical precursors etc. The government of India considers it a source of revenue for which alcoholic beverage and liquor are available everywhere.
The enforcement of law to control the abuse of drug is priority but demand reduction within the country is the effective measure to control drug abuse. The reduction of number of users of drug and treatment and rehabilitation of drug addicts are major steps to reduce domestic demand and also discourage trafficking and use of Bangladesh as its routes of illicit trafficking.
There should be massive motivational campaign about bad effects of drug abuse. All guardians and parents, teachers and nearest relatives must keep constant vigilance so that a youth cannot be derailed with the influence of bad companions. Preventive education and treatment and rehabilitation are priority issues to make a country drug abuse free. These are reasons for which the government is firm to create a strong public opinion against drug abuse and reconstituted the National Narcotics Control Board with this vision. There should be some changes in the Rules governing drug use, production and distribution.
It might be pointed out that Bangladesh was signatory of Single Convention on Narcotics in 1961 and signed in the Convention of psychotropic substances in 1971 and also signatory to the UN Convention on Illicit Trafficking in Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.
The following quick actions can be suggested:
1. Recreational facilities and diversion programmes to be encouraged that prevent vulnerable populations from becoming substance dependent.
2. Development and implementation of multi-disciplinary and multi-modal protocols and practices for integrated diagnosis and treatment of substance dependence and co-occurring disorders and for funding such diagnosis and treatment.
3. Harmonisation and enforcement of laws and policies to facilitate effective governance of the alcohol and drug supply chain.
4. Avoid torture on addicts which is unacceptable. Torture is also a crime and makes a person vindictive.
We are in total war against drug abuse and we must win in the war.
The writer is Former Secretary to the Government