Punjab minister, official at loggerheads over missing de-addiction drug

Sidhu wants matter to end with just a warning, Principal Secy for stringent action

Punjab minister, official at loggerheads over missing de-addiction drug

Vishav Bharti

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, February 9

In the case of the missing 5 crore tablets of de-addiction drug buprenorphine-naloxone, a senior government officer had proposed that owners of the 23 erring de-addiction centres should be booked under the NDPS Act but Health Minister Balbir Singh Sidhu wants to let them off with a mere warning. 

5 cr tablets untraced

  • 8.33 crore buprenorphine tablets were procured between January and November 2019 by 70 private de-addiction centres in Punjab.
  • 3.02 crore tablets were sold as per rules.
  • 5.3 crore tablets remain missing

In December last, a government report had found that around 5.3 crore tablets (around 70 per cent of the total de-addiction tablets dispensed by private centres) worth Rs 200 crore were untraced and were sold illegally by the private de-addiction centres. Following that, Principal Secretary, Health and Family Welfare, Anurag Aggarwal had initiated action and show-cause notice under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, was issued to 23 centres that were found selling huge quantity of the highly addictive drug ‘illegally’. Besides, notices were issued under Punjab Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Counselling and Rehabilitation Centres Rules, 2011, for violating terms of licence to 73 other centres.

Since buprenorphine-naloxone falls in the category of psychotropic substance, any illegal sale of the medicine invites action under the NDPS Act. Punishment under the NDPS Act is harsher and any person found guilty of indulging in the sale or purchase of any psychotropic drug gets a minimum of 10 years in prison and that can be extended to 20 years and a minimum fine of Rs 1 lakh.

Following the report, the Health Minister had directed all civil surgeons to personally look into the purchase and distribution of buprenorphine-naloxone in their respective districts and submit a report every week. After two and a half months, now the entire issue seems to be hitting a dead end as the Minister and the Principal Secretary are at loggerheads over the issue.

In the third week of January, when the Principal Secretary was on leave, the minister, citing reports of various civil surgeons, proposed to just issue a warning to the erring centres, thereby allowing them go off the hook.

Sources said last week Aggarwal again sent the file to the minister, opposing the move and seeking action under the NDPS Act as per the original order.

Sidhu said, “I am a minister, I am accountable to the people. The NDPS charges are a serious issue. People can’t be punished in a hurry. What if one is found innocent later? We should conduct a thorough inquiry and if someone is found guilty, he must be punished as per the law.”

Aggarwal said that the matter was under the consideration of the government.

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