THE death toll from the continued drive against drug substances, which began on May 4, 2018 and was stepped up in the middle of that month, has so far reached 403, with four more reported to have died on Sunday — three in a ‘gunfight’ with the Rapid Action Battalion in Cox’s Bazar and one in another ‘gunfight’ with the Border Guard Bangladesh. While the death of such a large number of people, suspected of being involved in peddling and trading in drug substances, in what law enforcers say are incidents of ‘gunfight’ or ‘gangland infighting’ but are largely believed to be cases of extrajudicial killing because of the narratives that often go with the incidents has raised rights abuse furore at home and abroad right from the beginning, what remains worrying is that the incidents have evidently failed to arrest the abuse or peddling of drug substances. Despite a large number of drug busts, drug hauls continued to be seized almost regularly. Department of Narcotics Control statistics show that 119,000 cases have so far been filed against 150,000 people and 55 million pieces of Yaba tablets — stimulants containing methamphetamine and caffeine that are said to be produced in Myanmar, and perhaps in some measure in India, and smuggled into Bangladesh — have been seized.
The statistics of the Rapid Action Battalion, which reports 104 to have been killed in ‘gunfight’ and 24,898 suspects to have been arrested in May 3, 2018–May 1, 2019, say that 149,695 bottles of Phensedyl, a form of addictive codeine syrup said to be produced in and smuggled from India, have been seized in the period. Border Guard Bangladesh personnel are reported to have seized 2,266,669 Yaba tablets, including 526,942 only in January, in the first quarter of 2019, almost a year after the drive began in May 2018. The figures suggest that the drive, which has caused such a high number of extrajudicial killing, has failed not only to arrest drug trade and abuse but, in some case, to even make any dent as the news of drug bust and drug haul, large or small, continue to make the headlines at intervals. The abuse and trade in drug substances, which have severely menaced society for long, of course, need to be stopped under a comprehensive plan, with efforts to stop the smuggling of the substances and break the supply chain, steps against sales and rehabilitation of the addicts, failing which no plan would be successful. But the fight against drug substances, along the way, should in no way run into an affront to the rule of law.
The government, under the circumstances, must continue with its fight against drug abuse and trade, sit with the authorities of the neighbouring countries to work out and execute plans to stop the smuggling, break the supply chain, effectively deter offenders and put in efforts in rehabilitation issues of the people who abuse drug substances. But everything must take place keeping to the rule of law to stop the law enforcers from being mired in rights abuse issues and to improve justice dispensation by seeking redress in the court of law.
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