Drug menace major challenge: SSP Srinagar Rakesh Bhalwal

Srinagar, Dec 31 : Remarking drug menace as a major challenge and it having role in jeopardizing societal peace, Senior Superintendent of Police Srinagar Rakesh Bhalwal underscoring the importance of eradication of menace said the district police is on the move and have recommended and booked 52 accused persons under Public Safety Act in the outgoing year – a record so far.

In an exclusive chat with Global News Service (GNS) Sub-editor Asif Iqbal, the City Police Chief responded to a host of queries involving the role of police and allied law-enforcement agencies in ensuring maintenance of law and order situation in summer capital Srinagar.

Expressing his satisfaction on the overall performance of Police in outgoing year in achieving peace and calm in the City, the Police Officer said that they are striving hard to bridge the gap between Police and Public and to do away with uncalled apprehensions about police functioning.

Here we reproduce the excerpts of the exclusive interview:

i) There has been a steep surge in cases related to drug peddling, resultantly falling of gullible youth to the menace. An overview of how police fared against the eradication of the menace in the outgoing year?

– There have been cases in last year as well, but this year we came hard on the culprits and launched an outright onslaught to eradicate the menace. We have had a record number of cases this year (2022) wherein 279 persons were arrested. In addition to this 52 were recommended and lodged under PSA/PIT in jails. There has been a surge in cases, but we have taken a serious stand against it with our allied law enforcement agencies and rehab centre officials continuously monitoring the situation on ground.

It was for the first time that 52 accused were lodged under Public Safety Act as we are of the opinion that drug peddlers do also come under the purview of those involved in law and order situation and we won’t as such let them go scot free. Booking the main peddlers under PSA helps us to break the chain, for once a peddler is booked for a year or two, the string breaks of its own and eventually the supply stops.

We now have the ‘Nasha Mukt Abhiyan’ launched by UT govt through which there are dedicated wards at each hospital aimed at rehabilitating the drug consumers’. We have over the year also held extensive awareness camps and programmes in various educational institutions to highlight this issue. There are three pillars in it – Enforcement, Rehabilitation and Awareness. It is necessary for us to apply more and more force on the perilous activity as we assume that the crimes taking place in the City have somehow some connection with drug consumption.

Things have been quite satisfactory for us in the outgoing year however we expect more cooperation from the general public. We, despite having launched a helpline number unfortunately receive less response from the general public and want to pass this message from this medium to urge the general masses to rise up to the occasion and name and shame such elements of the society and boycott them socially. We at the same time assure that a strong action will be taken against any such person (involved in drug peddling) as our officers’ on ground are unified to stamp out the menace in an effective manner. I reiterate my request to urge the locals to support us and act as our eyes and ears in this mission. I fervently ask families if there is any drug addict in any family, to take the individual to any nearby rehab centre for treatment. There is a spacious drug de-addiction centre in Eidgah established by J&K police, people can use it.

ii) A case involving a gruesome acid attack on a city girl received much attention and outcry from different spheres of life (and rightly so). What overall progress has been made in the particular case so far?

– Well almost all the witnesses’ have been recorded in the particular case against the accused (adult) and we are hopeful that the verdict will come soon – most probably in the coming few months. It all is upon the Court to decide, but we are hopeful the decision will be out soon. We extended all possible assistance to the victim to rehabilitate her and are in continuous touch with the family to monitor the progress and medical care of the victim.

iii) With Srinagar being the hub of Coaching Centres, the young girl students have been facing eve-teasing and other gender-centric issues. How is the Police making sure that the fairer gender doesn’t have to face any such thing, better to say helping them in feeling safe and secure?

– We are well aware of the issue and as such have already two dedicated women squads to help out such victims. There is a women’s helpline even but it has received less number of calls since its launch – If there is any boy regularly harassing or stalking any girl, the victim can call and lodge her complaint without any hesitation. The fairer gender should have faith in us and reach out to us on such issues, we are here to protect them. Whenever we received any such complaint, necessary action on a case-to-case basis was taken. “It is not the mistake of that girl who is being stalked or harassed, it is that person who is to be taught a lesson, so that no such incident is repeated.”

iv) There has been a mushroom growth of unregistered and unverified social media platforms and self-styled journalists all across and more particularly in Srinagar, who more often than not carry and post unverified and unmoderated content. Is there anything being done or any policy being mulled upon to contain such activities?

– We have taken action against this issue as well. A particular case in extension of this was issuance of an advisory during the Pakistan-India Cricket match asking the social media platforms to refrain from any such content that may lead to any law and order situation. At the same, I want to inform that we do have a strong cyber cell which continuously monitors the content being circulated on social media. If there is any report or news item which incites or flares up violence or any sort of law and order situation, we do take action, however if it is by mistake or goof up, then we call such persons’ here and ask them to ensure not to post or carry any such report without proper verification. An accreditation committee has been already set up (by DIPR) which is mandated to see into credentials of active media persons. But one thing is that it is not something that is peculiar to here but is being witnessed all over, we will nonetheless do everything possible to keep a check on this trend. “People do have a Right to Speech, but then it also is qualified by certain restrictions, if a person expresses anything within such (restrictions) and does not give rise to any law and order situation, we don’t have any issue either.”

v) A related thing to the media, there have been death threats issued in the names of several Valley-based journalists, which already has resulted in the resignation of few journalists. Have the police reached out to such journalists to allay their fears and regain their confidence back in the profession?

– We have taken all the necessary steps into the matter and are in touch with the relevant offices on ground level as well. Leaving or resigning from jobs’ is the personal choice of anyone, rest assured that we are more than capable of ensuring the safety of people. These threat letters’ are not only an assault on media, but an assault on reasonable and rational media, the media which doesn’t toe the lines of [militants]. They [militants] are not happy and such things only show their frustration. Given the resources at disposal of people, it is not difficult for anyone to post such letters’, but I want to reiterate we are well guarded against such odds. This just is a ploy to create a psychosis among the more neutral, reasonable and rational segments of society. We are regularly in touch with the media houses and with those having resigned to win them back and continue with their job. We have even deployed extra manpower at Press Enclave to ensure the safety and security of all the media persons.

vi) What overall measures is the Police taking to bridge the gap with the general public?

– We are aiming to be as much people-friendly as we can be. If there is anything wherein police can intervene to make it easy for the public, we do that. We have dedicated hours for the public to listen to their grievances, which helps us to maintain our repo with the general public. There have been off late several initiatives being started like Thana Diwas, PCPG to intermittently interact with the general public.

vii) Anything or any challenge which you as city police Chief feel will still take time to deal with?

2022 overall went well, though drug menace is a challenge which still is being dealt with satisfactorily. We will run after every narcotic peddler to bring them to justice. This menace is snatching our future, our youth from our hands which can’t be tolerated at any cost. “At least till I am here, these drug peddlers should know that they should either leave this practice or leave this place.”

All in all we aim to make sure that peace and calm prevails in the City in coming times for the larger benefit of residents here.

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