DRUG addiction among the youth has for quite some years been a grave public concern as the number of addicts is estimated to be more than six million, who spend over Tk 70 million every day on drug substances. The government’s recent interest in containing the menace is promissory. The government in May launched a nationwide anti-drug drive although the extra-judicial killing of the alleged drug pedlars remains seriously controversial. Along the same line, the cabinet approved in principle a narcotic control bill with a legal provision for life imprisonment for anyone carrying, trading, storing or possessing Yaba weighing more than five grams. While the attempt to contain Yaba is a welcome move, jurists, legal experts raised concern about the bill as it is singularly focused on the distribution channel of narcotics and further empowers the law enforcement agencies, many members of which do not enjoy the reputation of being honest, to search, seize and arrest ordinary people.
The anti-drug drive was welcomed. The alarming number of death of alleged drug pedlars in ‘gunfight’ with law enforcement agencies, however, made the government effort controversial. At least 249 suspected drug pedlars, mostly reported to be Yaba dealers, have so far been killed in reported ‘gunfights’ and 40,000 were arrested in the drive. Such deaths of alleged drug pedlar without trial was criticised by rights organisations and eminent citizens. Besides, there are numerous allegations that law enforcers harassed people by stuffing drugs in their bags or pockets. In this context, jurists are rightfully concerned that the legal provision for harsh punishment for Yaba possession would multiply the possibility of harassing ordinary people and create a greater scope of corruption. Legal experts rightly voiced concern that an emphasis on distribution channel is an attempt on part of the government to keep the main actors of the drug market, the politically influential quarters involved in the production and international trafficking of drugs, untouched. Therefore, the proposed law seems seriously flawed, offers partial redress to the problem of drug addiction and carries a greater risk to be misused by the corrupt law enforcers.
Local and international agencies have repeatedly insisted that the drug menace cannot be contained by national efforts alone. Drugs such as Yaba, heroin, marijuana, and cocaine are smuggled into Bangladesh from Myanmar and India. Therefore, the government should mobilise international support and take up the issue of the go-slow policy of neighbouring countries on narcotics control in international forums. It must review the proposed draft to ensure that both production and distribution of narcotic drugs are equally addressed. More importantly, the government has a greater challenge at hand that is to judiciously investigate the extra-judicial killing and arrest of innocent citizens in the name of anti-drug drive before making a stricter law to control drug abuse. Otherwise, the new law will just be another tool at the disposal of not-so-honest law enforcers to harass citizens.
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