The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) is the independent and quasi-judicial control organ for the implementation of the UN drug conventions. Each year, the INCB prepares a report for submission to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations. As part of the worldwide release of the Report of the International Narcotics Control Board for 2007, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Regional Office for South Asia (ROSA) organized a launch event in New Delhi on 5 March 2008. The Chief Guest of the event was Mr. K. C. Verma, Director General, Narcotics Control Bureau, Government of India. The event was attended by Government officials from agencies such as the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MSJE), Ministry of Home, and the Police. The participants also included personnel from donor agencies, embassy/consulate representatives, non-governmental organizations, the media, as well as other UN agencies.
The formal launch event was preceded by a tea and coffee session, and the registration of the attendees.
The first formal session of the event was a
welcome address by Ms. Shalini Dewan, Director, UN Information Centre, India. Ms. Dewan also moderated the session and invited the various dignitaries to the podium, to give their addresses. The report was then launched by the Chief Guest Mr. K. C. Verma, Director General, Narcotics Control Bureau, India, and the other dignitaries (Dr. Sundeep Khanna, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment; Mr. Gary Lewis, Representative, UNODC ROSE; Ms. Shalini Dewan, Director, UNIC, India; and, Mr. Rajiv Walia, Project Coordinator - Precursor Control in South Asia, UNODC ROSA). Mr. Verma formally accepted the report on behalf of the Government of India.
Mr. Rajiv Walia, Project Coordinator - Precursor Control in South Asia, UNODC ROSA, then presented the
highlights of the 2007 INCB Report. The salient features of the three-tiered presentation, were as follows:
Information on the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB)
Role of the INCB
Composition of the Board
Primary theme of the 2007 Report
The concept of Proportionality i.e. punishment proportional to the crime committed
Proportionality in drug-related crimes
Recommendations made by the report
South Asia related highlights
Illicit opium cultivation
Drug abuse in South Asia
Drug abuse and HIV/AIDS link
The UNODC ROSA Representative, Mr. Gary Lewis, then gave a brief on the emerging
regional concerns and the responses to these issues. While citing the quasi-judicial and independent nature of the INCB within the UN system, Mr. Lewis gave information on UNODC's own publications on the issue, especially the World Drug Report released mid-year annually. Mr. Lewis then proceeded to highlight the drug supply and abuse situation in South Asia, and the UNODC response to the highlighted problems. The main points put forward during this session are as follows:
importance of drug abuse prevention: a) Primary prevention - In India, as elsewhere in the region, there was a growing need and importance of reaching out to the youth, parents as well as teachers for school-based prevention. b) Prevent the crossover to injecting - through interventions during the window period between the first time of abuse and the move to injecting drug use. It was also mentioned that in Maldives the problem was spiraling out of control and needed urgent measures to control. In Sri Lanka, the problem was not as grave, but given the risk of drug-related HIV, there was a need for prevention in any country facing this menace.
growing problem of pharmaceutical abuse in the region: Perhaps the most significant problem being faced by the region, primarily because of unevenly applied regulatory controls; need for better monitoring compliance with the law; and the growing menace of
illegal internet pharmacies. The pharmaceutical abuse situation in South Asia: Commonly abused pharmaceuticals being buprenorphine, diazepam, nitrazepam, dextro-propoxyphene and codeine-based cough syrups.
Impact of drug abuse, especially on the HIV problem in India. The means through which the impact spreads from the substance abuse segment, to a wider net of the general public, through the feminization of the epidemic.
UNODC work on protecting injecting drug users (IDUs) from adverse health consequences: Help IDUs from sharing contaminated needles; provide oral substitution therapy to IDUs (including in prisons).
UNODC work in the area of drug supply control, include strengthening precursor control measures and mechanisms; improve technical capacities for effective drug law enforcement; and, increase controls over licit pharmaceutical drugs in selected countries. Need for further infrastructure in respect of drug supply control and for capacity building of law enforcement officers to ensure effective investigations and prosecutions. The Government of India is considering supporting a project on empowering law enforcement officers.
Address by the Chief Guest, Mr. K.C. Verma, Director General, Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Government of India.
Formally accepted the report on behalf of the Government.
Proffered appreciation of UNODC work.
Highlighted some issues such as:
The concept of proportionality and punishment commensurate with the crime committed.
Salient features of the NDPS Act and certain features with are unique (e.g. under certain circumstances there is no possibility of bail; pressure on the accused to be proven innocent, as opposed to normal jurisprudence where a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty).
Drug scenario in the Indian context: no major divergences from the pattern. Some noteworthy features included the seizure of a large consignment of hashish in transit from Nepal to Canada; dismantling of two internet pharmacies in collaboration with the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). The danger of cocaine in India as mentioned in INCB report was somewhat overdone. Abuse of pharmaceuticals is an area of increasing concern.
Question and Answer session
Question: What is the latest appraisal of INCB and UNODC on the drug supply situation - is the problem spiraling up or plummeting down?
Response: (Mr. Gary Lewis) On the demand side, in 2004, a base-line on the Extent, Nature and Pattern of Drug Abuse in India was released by the UNODC. The survey had been conducted with the support of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The survey contains detailed information on the drug abuse situation in the country. However, there has been no comparable survey since then, hence no information is available to draw conclusions according to a baseline, midline and endline. UNODC has constantly reiterated the need for another national survey, and discussions have been ongoing with the Government regarding this possibility. However, information is available from small concentrated assessments. For example, according to one such rapid assessment, drug abuse in Punjab is increasing.
(Mr. K. C. Verma) Over the last 10-12 years there have no alarming escalations in the supply of drugs in the country. However, it should be kept in mind that most of the picture that is got from the supply side is based on interrogation, seizures, inputs from other places, intelligence, etc. Some worrying aspects include, the substitution of drugs by pharmaceuticals, internet pharmacies and the trafficking of drugs across borders. The country increasingly being a part of the world wide network of internet pharmacies.)
Question: (Tripti Tandon, Lawyers Collective) What is your view on the mandatory death penalty under the NDPS Act, especially when considered in line with other anti-death penalty debates (reference to a recent case in Mumbai where the death penalty was awarded)?
Response: (Mr. K. C. Verma) The sentences awarded as well as the conduct of the judge are beyond our capacity to comment, since the accused still have a right to appeal. As a law enforcement official I would support stringent penalties and enhanced punishments, especially to repeat offenders. Regarding the death penalty in the Act, I would not like to give my personal comments.
Comment: (Luke Samson, SHARAN) The NDPS Act was instituted to break the drug cartels and not for penalising small-time drug users. Incarceration of drug users also has an impact on the proliferation of the HIV epidemic. Looking at the crime from the rationale of the law is fine, but the issue also needs to be looked at from a public health perspective.
Response: (Mr. K. C. Verma) The NDPS Act does differentiate between the abuser and the commercial supplier. In terms of incarceration of the abuser, the issue is not merely related to punishments prescribed in the NDPS Act but also related to a wider issue of the functioning of the judicial mechanism.
Question: In reference to a comment in the INCB Report regarding the diversion of pharmaceutical preparations, are there any controls on the chemicals which are used for the preparation of pharmaceutical products?
Response: (Mr. K. C. Verma) Under the international classification system the psychotropic substances are subject to varying levels of control. In India, the dispensation of medicines is required to be regulated under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act. Under Schedule 3 of the Act the presence of drugs in the pharmaceuticals is controlled.
Question: What are the steps being taken to control the flow of Ketamine from India to Malaysia?
Response: (Mr. K. C. Verma) We are aware of the growing problem. Ketamine is not an internationally controlled drug. In India, its usage is primarily as an anesthetic, hence putting strict controls is not feasible as it has to be weighed against its availability for legitimate medical use. The abuse is not so rampant so as to outweigh the genuine use of it for medical purposes. There are now controls placed on the export of Ketamine. Illegal consignments have also been seized. However, for effective control, restrictions need to be placed on both the demand and the supply side.
Question: What are the measures in place to deal with drug trafficking/ supply in the South of India?
Response: (Mr. K. C. Verma) As mentioned earlier, the drug trafficking patterns in India have not seen a major divergence from the usual. The number of seizures has come down in the Southern part of India.
Question: Are there any reports indicating that there has been an increase in illicit opium production in the naxal affected areas?
Response: (Mr. K. C. Verma) Cultivation of the opium poppy is banned unless a license is obtained from the Government of India. During 2007, extensive eradication was carried out by the Central Bureau of Narcotics (CBN) and the West Bengal Police. This year also, the situation is being closely monitored. Whether there is any tacit support to the cultivators from the Maoist groups, there is no such indication or official report. There are only anecdotal reports regarding the Maoist groups extorting money from the opium cultivators. However, the cultivation remains at a negligible level.
Question: Do you have information on the use of date-rape drugs in Delhi and the NCR Region? Is the quantity of drugs coming from Afghanistan increasing?
Response: (Mr. K. C. Verma) There is no detailed information available to us to make the comment on the issue of the use of date-rape drugs. As for the second part of the question, the quantum of heroin coming from Afghanistan has increased. The production of heroin in Afghanistan increased in 2007. This then moves out of the borders of Afghanistan into surrounding countries like Pakistan and Iran, and filters into India. The amount of heroin coming into India is also a function of the border situation between India and Pakistan. However, we continue to monitor the situation in order to have an adequate response to the issue.
(Mr. Gary Lewis) Elaborated on the situation of poppy cultivation in Afghanistan over the past few years, and mentioned the filtering down Afghan produced heroin Southwards, including some heroin being found in Sri Lanka.