Of drugs and jail

The recommendation made by the Union Ministry of Social Justice to decriminalize possession of small quantities of narcotic substances for personal use is a step in the right direction. The arrest of Bollywood superstar Shahrukh Khan’s son Aryan from a luxury cruise boat off Mumbai coast recently is a case in point. Such situations weighed in favour of this recommendation. Admittedly, consumption of narcotic substances is harmful to health and must be discouraged; so is the consumption of alcohol and yet there is practically no control on liquor consumption other than in a dry state like Gujarat. But even there liquor flows from people’s stomachs and through the drains via illicit means. This hypocrisy is what marks India out as a nation, which fails on most fronts and yet gives enough room to law-enforcing agencies to make life miserable for its citizens. Evil-eyed indulgences of the police are a larger curse, in reality, than drug abuse. The Constitution of India is not the Gospel. It should, and does, change with the times through parliamentary interventions. Hatching on to a law even when it causes avoidable misery to larger numbers of the populace is unacceptable. Drug-related laws not only within India but across the world too need realistic changes. Notably, the present recommendation is in tune with a similar stand taken by the UN-linked International Narcotics Control Board, which has been in existence since 1968 and yet remained silent on such aspects all along.
What the social justice ministry stated, in sum, is to avoid jail for those caught with small amounts of drugs, say a few grams. As a rule, arrest could be avoided in all petty crimes and a fine should suffice. This will help reduce filing of cases in courts, which are already burdened with pending cases in crores. Fines fetch huge revenue; and several governments are doing things to eminently fill their coffers. India mostly has ageing men at the helm of affairs whose outlook is half a century behind that of the present-day world. Of first priority is a change of mindsets, which however is hard to happen. Concentration of the law-enforcing agencies should be on checking the trade and peddling of banned narcotic substances. Notably, several narcotic substances banned in India are allowed around the world. These substances have medicinal value as well. The social justice ministry has taken the courage to state the obvious. It is for the political establishment to wake up from its slumber in such matters and act judiciously.

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