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Scale Of Drug Usage In Kerala Unacceptably High

It is certainly refreshing, rejuvenating and remarkable to see that the Kerala High Court most recently in a leading judgment titled Suo Motu Proceedings Initiated Based On A Representation Submitted By Sri. N. Ramachandran I.P.S. (Retired), Regarding The Efforts To Be Undertaken To Curb The Increasing Menace Of Drug Abuse vs State of Kerala and others in W.P.(C). No. 9001/2019(S) has observed that the “scale of drug usage in Kerala is unacceptably high” and has therefore issued a slew of directions to control drug abuse among youngsters and students in educational institutions. A Division Bench comprising of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice AM Shaffique took note of an alarming report of the State Special Branch that around 400 institutions in the State are affected by drug abuse and out of such education institutions, 74.12% are schools, 20.89% are colleges and professional institutions and 4.97% are other institutions viz, ITI, Polytechnics etc. This invariably results in surge in crime and violence which cannot be just glossed over!

First and foremost, it is observed in para 1 that, “Instant writ petition is registered, suo motu, taking note of the menace of drug consumption and trade, in the State of Kerala.”

To start with, the ball is set rolling in real sense in para 2 of this notable judgment authored by Chief Justice S Manikumar for himself and Justice AM Shaffique wherein it is observed that, “Short facts leading to the writ petition are that a representation dated 15.03.2019 has been submitted by Sri. N. Ramachandran, IPS (Retd.), former District Police Chief, Kottayam, to a Hon'ble Judge of this Court highlighting various aspects of drug abuse in Kerala. The letter has thrown light to the increasing rate of crimes committed by the youth under the influence of drugs and its alarming growth by the children/ students of both genders. The letter emphasised the need for proper utilisation of funds provided by the Central, as well as State Governments, in the field of drug abuse.”

To put things in perspective, the Bench then observes in para 3 that, “On consideration of the representation, this Court has decided to register a suo motu public interest writ petition. It was observed that issues concerning the rampant drug abuse were recently reported in the editorials of major newspapers in the State. It was further observed that 'Abon Kits' used by the Police in Vadodara and Gujarat can detect whether a person has consumed contraband, besides identifying the type of drug consumed. Writ court has suggested that efforts have to be taken to identify whether any 'user-friendly' device, at the same time 'less expensive', is available, and if so, to cause it to be procured and make the same available to the Police, Excise, and such other departments for extensive use. In the above-said circumstances, instant writ petition has been registered.”

Be it noted, the Bench then enunciates in para 10 that, “Report of the State Special Branch, as regards drug abuse in educational institutions, reveals that in the past so many years, there is a significant increase in the number of drug abuse cases and it has become a serious problem in the educational institutions. On enquiry, it came to understand that around 400 institutions in the State are affected by drug abuse and out of the education institutions, 74.12% are schools, 20.89% are colleges and professional institutions, and 4.97% are other institutions viz., ITI, Polytechnics etc.”

It cannot be glossed over that it is then stated in para 11 that, “The report also reveals that a range of drugs from Ganja, Hashish to Synthetic Drugs are used by the student community. Majority of cases registered are regarding possession and sale of Ganja. The State Special Branch has provided intelligence inputs on drug trafficking, drug peddling, drug use centered around schools, college campuses and other educational institutions to the concerned District Police Chiefs, State Police Chief, and Excise Commissioner, depending on the jurisdiction of the offence and its magnitude involved.”

More revealingly, the Bench then enunciates in para 12 that, “The report further reveals that in most of the cases detected in the college campuses, the seizure is below 1 kg of ganja, which is bailable, and this encourages a person to engage in drug abuse. Apart from the narcotic and synthetic drugs usage being rampant among the student community, inhaling of Noxious chemicals like whitener, ink, fevicol, varnish solution used for repairing tyre puncture, are being used by the students for getting intoxication. This would cause illness and sometimes damage their organs permanently. Since the above substances do not come under the purview of NDPS Act, no legal action was initiated. In the report, the State Special Branch has recommended the following, to curb the drug abuse in educational institutions:

(a) In order to conduct regular checking inside the educational institutions, or personal search of students by the Police and Excise, the Government may adopt a method of establishing Campus Police Units, which is widely used in western countries. Measures may also be identified to make it easier for the enforcement agencies to enter the educational institutions, so as to enforce the NDPS Act. 

(b) To make the campuses of educational institutions drug free, the Universities/Colleges/School authorities be provided with guidelines as a charter of duties and responsibilities of such officials. 

(c) Since, most of the students are unaware of the health and career hazards, and also the legal repercussions of usage and trafficking of drugs, sensitization on health as well as legal aspects are necessary. For this purpose, the services of Student Police Cadets, NCC, NSS and other Non Governmental Organisations may be used. 

(d) There is a necessity to establish regular counseling and rehabilitation mechanisms to save the students already using drugs and addicts. For this purpose, co-operation of University authorities, affected students and their parents should be elicited. 

(e) A special scheme may be introduced to declare educational campus as drug free. The educational institutions and Universities could initiate steps to conduct anti drug programmes, health awareness campaigns and use social media to propagate the message and conduct of voluntary random urine/blood tests of students.”

As it turned out, the Bench then states in para 41 that, “Section 32B(d) of the NDPS Act, 1985 speaks about the fact that offence is committed in an educational institution or social service facility or in the immediate vicinity of such institution or facility or in other place to which school children and students resort for educational, sports and social activities as one of the aggravating factors, which may be justified for imposing higher than the minimum penalty prescribed for the offence.

Most significantly, the Bench then points out in para 42 that, “In order to tackle the problem of sale of drugs in schools and colleges, the following measures can be adopted:

a) Local police shall pay special attention to areas surrounding schools and colleges in their efforts to tackle drug peddlers.

b) Schools and colleges be encouraged to look out for peddlers in their vicinity and report them to police.

c) Schools and colleges be encouraged to conduct surveys (possibly anonymous) to assess the levels of drug addiction among their students, and if addicted students can be identified, to talk to their parents or wards to find medical help to cure their addiction.

d) The Central and State Education Authorities to include a mandatory and comprehensive chapter on drug abuse and illicit trafficking and its socio-economic costs to self, society, and the country, in the syllabus for 10+1 and 10+2 students.

e) Schools and colleges be encouraged to constitute the AntiDrug Club to promote a drug free life among its members and also in the institution.”

Equally significant is what is then stated in para 43 that, “Street peddlers being an important link between the addicts and the traffickers, it is vital to contain them to tackle the drug problem. Hence, to deal with street peddlers, the following steps shall be taken:

a) Increase the public awareness about the potential harm street peddlers can do to their societies and their children and the need to report peddlers to police and to follow up. 

b) NGOs, resident welfare societies, etc., be involved in reporting peddlers and follow up with police.

c) Sensitize police that dealing with street peddlers is an important part of their job.

d) Train and build capacities of the local police to deal with peddlers, including those who are addicts themselves. 

e) In large cities, develop special, mobile, anti-peddling squads of police with jurisdiction all over the city and linked to a helpline.

f) Similar to the method of contact tracing followed in the case of Covid-19 patients, police can explore the possibility of tracking drug peddlers.

g) Like in the case of history sheeters, there should be constant monitoring of street peddlers.”

No less significant is what is then stated aptly in para 45 that, “Considering the entire material on record, we issue the following directions to the concerned: 

I. Respondent No.1 is directed to adopt a method of establishing Campus Police Units, since the Law Enforcement agencies are not conducting regular checking inside the educational institutions. Measures shall also be taken to make it easier for the police and excise personnel to enforce NDPS Act, 1985, in the educational institutions. 

II. Respondent No.1, is also directed to convene a meeting of all the key officials from the Department of Home Affairs, Excise, Health, Law, Education and representative of State Mental Health authority, Department of Social Justice, and chalk out programmes, to ensure reduction in the incidence of Substance abuse among teenagers and youth and for the implementation of the suggestions made above.

III. The Universities/Colleges/School authorities shall be provided with guidelines as a charter of duties and responsibilities, to make the campuses of the educational institutions, drug free. 

IV. Respondent No.3 shall seek the services of Student Police Cadets, NCC, NSS and other similar organisations to tide over the situation that the students are unaware of the legal repercussions of the usage and trafficking of drugs, and the health and career hazards caused due to the usage of drugs. 

V. Respondent No.3 is also directed to introduce a special scheme to ensure that the premises of the educational institutions and Universities are drug free. The 3rd respondent shall initiate steps to conduct anti-drug programmes in the institutions, propagate health awareness campaigns, and use the assistance of social medias.

VI. The 3rd respondent is further directed to establish counselling and rehabilitation mechanisms, to save the students who are already using drugs and addicts, and for that purpose, co-operation of University authorities, affected students, and their parents be elicited.”

Finally, it is then held in the last para 46 that, “The directions issued, be complied with strictly, in letter and spirit, in accordance with law, within a period of three months from the date of receipt of a copy of this judgment. Failure to implement the directions, by the authorities concerned, would only affect many. Writ petition is disposed of accordingly. Registry to post the writ petition after three months, for submitting the compliance report. Copy of this judgment shall be communicated to the Chief Secretary, State of Kerala, for appropriate action and compliance.” 

No doubt, the remarkable and commendable directions issued by the Kerala High Court in this leading case must be implemented forthwith. It brooks no more delay anymore now! This noteworthy judgment also minces no words to underscore that the directions issued, be complied with strictly, in accordance with law, within a period of three months from the date of receipt of a copy of this judgment. The Division Bench of Kerala High Court issued the directives as stated above while disposing of a suo motu case initiated on the basis of a letter from a former IPS officer N Ramachandran highlighting the rampant abuse of drugs in schools and colleges. It is a no-brainer that if the directives that have been outlined by the Division Bench of the Kerala High Court are honestly implemented in letter and spirit then it will make a huge sea change and the rampant abuse of drugs in schools and colleges can certainly be considerably checked to a large extent.

Sanjeev Sirohi

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