Politicians in Punjab are proudly displaying results after voluntarily signing up for drug tests.
Chandigarh: Even as debates rage across the US and Australia if lawmakers should be mandatorily subjected to drug tests, politicians in Punjab are rushing to state-run hospitals and voluntarily offering themselves for “dope tests”.
The politicians, cutting across party lines, are also ready to make the reports of these tests public to score ethically-righteous points over others of their ilk.
The ‘Punjab dope test rush’ comes amid rising public anger over rampant drug addiction, widely suspected to be the result of a politician-police-peddler nexus. A spate of horrible deaths of drug addicts due to suspected overdose last month forced the Captain Amarinder Singh-led Congress government to act.
As part of a slew of decisions taken last Wednesday, the CM ordered that all government employees have to undergo a mandatory drug test at the time of promotion. For those employed in some critical occupations which are yet to be identified, these tests would be part of their annual health check-up. Also, every fresh recruit to the Punjab government will have to undergo the test. No other state in India mandates such a test for its employees.
The employee associations reacted by stating that they were ready to undergo the screening provided everyone drawing a salary from the state exchequer, including lawmakers, are also subjected to a dope test. The employees’ challenge mirrored a rising demand in the US and Australia for a drug test of politicians after governments there decided to test their welfare scheme beneficiaries.
The first in line
Without waiting for the government to take a decision on the pre-condition put forth by the employees, MLAs and cabinet ministers began volunteering for the test. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MLA from Sunam, Aman Arora, was among the first to reach Civil Hospital, Mohali, Thursday and submit his sample. Cabinet minister Tript Rajinder Singh Bajwa was next, followed by Congress MLAs Kuljit Nagra and Joginder Pal. On Friday, Punjab speaker Rana K.P. Singh too queued up for the test. Education minister O.P. Soni “passed” his test Saturday morning.
AAP MLA Aman Arora then challenged the CM to the test through a tweet:
Though I'm not agnst this order,but let's b honest @capt_amarinder ji,it has been the Politicians who had patronised Drug Mafia.Instead of these orders,as head of the State,U should have taken the first step.Nevertheless I got my DOPE TEST done today.When r U getting it done Sir? pic.twitter.com/1GOSVvJlUW
— Aman Arora (@AroraAmanSunam) July 5, 2018
Captain Amarinder Singh was quick to respond. He issued a statement Thursday evening saying he was willing to undergo the dope test but would leave it to the conscience of other elected representatives to take a decision on if they wanted to.
As the trend caught on, it became the first question to be flung at politicians. When asked, Akali MP and union minister Harsimrat Badal challenged Congress president Rahul Gandhi to a dope test. Punjab Congress chief Sunil Jakhar challenged Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal and AAP MP Bhagwant Mann to undergo the drug test.
Those who did it, proudly announced it too. Congress MLA from Ludhiana, Ravneet Singh Bittu, and AAP MLA H.S. Phoolka tweeted that they had got their tests done.
The dope test bug bit some bureaucrats as well. The deputy commissioner and SSP of Mansa district were among those who undertook the test.
What is the test?
The dope test facility was made available in all state-run civil hospitals some months ago after the government made it mandatory for those applying afresh for arms licences or getting them renewed to take the test. Only a negative report will get them the license. The civil hospital charges Rs 1,500 for the test.
Dr Manjit Singh, incharge of Mohali civil hospital, said the test checks for 10 main categories of substance abuse including opium-based and synthetic drugs. “Even if these were taken six months ago, they will show up in the sample,” he said. The report is available within a few hours of the test.
The same test kit was used by the Akali government to test male candidates who had applied for over 7,000 jobs as constables in the Punjab Police in 2016. Of the 3.76 lakh youths assessed, 4,500 (1.27 per cent) tested positive, the then government had informed. Facing severe criticism for failing to stem the rot, the then deputy chief minister Sukhbir Badal used the figures to make the point that the problem of drug addiction in the state was not as critical as was being projected.
Sukhbir has now taken a public stand against subjecting women employees to the dope test.
While politicians of all hues are undertaking it, questions are being raised about the validity of the test.
Experts said the test only checked for recent drug abuse not ‘addiction’. Meanwhile, some ‘sting operations’ by local journalists have purportedly shown that a dope test report can be purchased for a price.
Though AAP leaders were among the first to get themselves tested, the party has now taken a stand that the test rush is eclipsing the main issue: Rampant drug addiction and the alleged politician-police-peddler nexus behind it.
Similarly, though several Akali MLAs have got themselves tested, their party’s top leadership has shown little enthusiasm. Apart from former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, who “offered” to take the test, neither Sukhbir Badal nor other senior Akali leaders seem to be in any particular rush to prove a point.