'Udta Punjab' fiasco: The drug menace is very real; censoring won't help

Aprameya Rao

Jun 10, 2016 07:58:50 IST

The controversy surrounding Bollywood flick Udta Punjab rages on, as the 89 cuts ordered by the censor board are being widely lampooned. The Pahlaj Nihalani-led censor board has asked the filmmakers to delete any reference to Punjab or any place in the state. The cuts recommended include those that can baffle filmmakers and movie buffs alike: for instance, deleting all close-up shots of people injecting drugs. If this is done,  the very theme of the film could fizzle out.

It is being reported that Pahlaj Nihalani has a problem with the "portrayal of reality in the film". His solution to this problem is laughable: Keep the film's setting in a fictional land rather than Punjab.

Nevertheless, there is enough statistical and empirical evidence to show that Punjab is in the midst of a drug time-bomb. Whether Pahlaj Nihalani likes it or not, the state's drug problem is for real.

A Mint report quoted The Punjab Opioid Dependence Survey, which was conducted in early 2015. The survey found that about 2,30,000 people were drug users in the state. There were 836 drug users for every 1,00,000 people in the state. This is more than three times the national average of 250 per 1,00,000, according to the ministry of social justice and empowerment.

Udta Punjab fiasco: The drug menace is very real; censoring wont help

CBFC Chairman Pahlaj Nihalani and Udta Punjab film poster.

Drug seizures give a fair idea of the crippling menace in Punjab. Sample these stats: According to the Annual Narcotics Control Bureau report 2012, Punjab ranks amongst the top four states in opium seizures. The state saw a seizure of more than 691 kilograms of opium, second only to Maharashtra. In 2013, the amount seized rose substantially to 964 kilograms while the state stood first. In 2014, though the amount seized declined, yet the state remained in the top three.

When it came to seizures of heroin, a by-product of opium, Punjab stood first that year. A total of 506 kilograms of heroin was seized from the state, way ahead of any other state. Next year, the figure rose to 737 kilograms. In 2014, the state saw the seizure of 730 kilograms. This was way ahead of the seizures in all other states put together.

According to the National Crime record Bureau's 2014 report on prisons, of the total number of prisoners convicted on drug-related charges, about 45 percent of them come from Punjab. Amongst the undertrails facing these charges, 30 percent of them are from the state.

The All India Institute for Medical Sciences recently published a report which nailed the fact that drug-dependence, a WHO mandated term is indeed alarming in Punjab. A astonishing Rs 7,500 crore worth of drugs are consumed — Rs 6000 crores only on heroin.

The report highlighted the hand of Pakistani agencies in spreading the drug menace in the border state. More importantly, it criticised poor availability of rehabilitative treatment in the state.

Pakistan forms an important part of the "Golden Crescent", a by-word for the drug trafficking route originating from the illegal poppy fields of Afghanistan and passing through Iran.

Just take this for an example: In 2015, seven alleged smugglers and intruders were killed by the BSF along the Punjab-Pakistan border. A total of more than 300 kilograms of heroin worth Rs 1,200 crores was also seized.

With such a precarious situation in Punjab, it seems totally justified to keep the word "Punjab" in the film's title. The film only talks of the reality that has besieged the state. Changing the film title or purging the movie of its essence is not going to change the reality. Pahlaj Nihalani needs to do some serious re-thinking.

Updated Date: Jun 10, 2016 14:15:44 IST

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