If slowly our children in the Islands are turning Sadhus and Sufis by hooking on to bhang to achieve spiritual bliss and transcend higher planes of meditation, there is much to worry.

By Zubair Ahmed

Classrooms in many schools have turned into drug dens with students experimenting and exploring easily accessible narcotic formulations. Instead of jaljeera and gems, their curiosity has now found cure in a new packet more potent than Gutkha and Pan Masala.

When four Class IX students of a prominent school in Port Blair were rusticated for attending classes in intoxicated state, it revealed some shocking realities. “The students were found in a trance laughing non-stop for hours, which raised suspicion. It was found that they had consumed something called Lahri," Principal of the school told LOA. One Class XI student was also found in possession of Ganja.

The Light of Andamans on a week-long drug trail found that school students are swiftly getting addicted to a beautifully packed drug sold in the market by the brand name Lahri - Manukka Pachak Vati, which contains marijuana in the concoction, manufactured by an oblivious Ayurvedic firm Shukla Ayurvedic Pharmacy based in Indore.

Initially LOA team tried to find the source of ganja. Most of the peddlers are now underground after a major crackdown by the police. It was a bit tough to get a pudiya. Nevertheless, it’s available for all those desperate souls looking for it. The team could however manage to get three sachets from three different peddlers at a premium at designated places in the city.

Curiosity about Lahri took the team to various provision stores in the city, which stocked the so-called 'Ayurvedic Medicine', and without any inhibition the team could procure it from almost three shops. Although the sachet states it to be an "Ayurvedic Medicine" and a Schedule E(1) drug, only to be taken under medical supervision, its available for Rs 5 per sachet in roadside shops. Actually priced at Re 1, this is the only narcotic substance which is easily accessible to everyone including children for meager Rs 5/- cheaper than a Paan.

It may be shocking for many, but its common knowledge among the connoisseurs who call it bhang. "We don't use this substance as it’s the poor man's nasha," said an old addict, who claims to be clean now. "We used to have it when we were broke," he added.

Bhang may be a taboo for many, but in a disguise Lahri is sold as a digestive aid – Pachak Vati. When we approached an Ayurvedic physician, he could not even recognise it and was shocked to know that it’s available in the open market.

The composition on the Lahri packet states 12 different components like manuka (rajence) 20%, Shakkar Bura 10%, Shudh Vijaya 12%, Sengha Namak 5%, Jeera 10%, Badi Ilaichi 1%, Khajur 20%, Gud 5%, Nimbu Satt 2%, Kala Namak 5%, Kali Mirch 2%, Ajwain 8%, but does not mention marijuana or cannabis anywhere.

Odourless, the substance can be consumed anywhere unassumingly. It has become a hit among school students in the city and sold like hotcake in many shops. When our contact reached a shop and demanded 'munakka' as it’s called by users, the shopkeeper corrected him and told him to ask for "Lahri." He took out the sachet from his cashbox. Another shop at Junglighat had stocked the sachets in a gunny bag.

Very recently cases of students attending classes in inebriated state were also reported from two more schools in the city. “Without secure compounds, how can one monitor movement of outsiders inside school campuses?” asks a Physical Education Teacher.

 “We see vehicles parked near the school campus in suspicious situations, and we have already informed the police,” said a Principal. “There are gangs who supply the contrabands to the students,” he added.

A cramped classroom with more than 60 students in a class is the bane of our Islands, where every time we hear the rhetoric that there is no shortage of funds. “How can we keep watch on all students and their actions, when we have to complete syllabus as well as maintain proper records of each student as ordained by CCE pattern?’ asks a teacher.

The Directorate of Health Services typically remains ignorant of such drugs being peddled through general stores. Such a narcotic preparation, more potent than gutkha or pan masala is beyond the radar of Health Services as the Island lags behind by 60 years in the proper implementation of Drugs and Cosmetics Act 1940. Only a few cosmetic changes here and there are at place for State Drugs Controller, Licensing Authority and Drug Inspectors.

The indifferent attitude of the parents and civil society in identifying and monitoring such practices is another curse. The gravity of the issue is discussed and forgotten without any apt action. “Serious engagement by the Parents Teachers Associations (PTA) can play a major role in keeping a watch and curbing such practices in educational institutions,” said a teacher who feels that most of the Associations are for namesake.

In 2009, in Pune same product with a different brand name "Tarang" was confiscated by police. The preparation was sent to a forensic laboratory for chemical analysis and it confirmed the presence of the contraband. After an expert’s conclusion, cases were filed under the relevant sections of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. Two cases were registered in 2010, but the figure rose to 10 in 2011.

It is indeed startling that in our Islands, where there is no proper monitoring of drugs sold over the counter and in provision stores, undoubtedly, easy accessibility to such dangerous drugs will be disastrous.

System Failure, Aborting Task

Part-time responsibility will only yield part-time results. High time, ANI Admn puts in place a separate Food and Drugs Administration to keep a tab on unregulated flow of dangerous drugs in the open market.

By the time the Andaman and Nicobar Admn grasps the need for a full-fledged division with a Drug Controller, Licensing Authority and Drug Inspectors, as per the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules 1945, it would be too late. As of now, Drug Controller and Licensing Authority are rolled into one and the Director of Health Services has been ex officio notified, which is totally against the provisions of the Rules.

The Drug Controller and Licensing Authority are two different posts, with specialisation in Clinical Pharmacology or Microbiology. The Director at present is ex-officio notified as the Drug Controller, which does not serve any purpose. Moreover, he doesn't qualify for the post.

There are two notified ex-officio Drug Inspectors –Allopathic and Ayurveda. “With additional charges, it’s very difficult to monitor the whole territory,” Dr Paul, Director, Heath Services told LOA.

 “There are two posts created for Drug Inspectors, which is lying vacant till now due to delay in finalizing the RR,” said Dr Paul.

Satyavan Singh, Pharmacist, Ayurveda, is holding the charge of Ayurveda Drug Inspector. Narayan, another Pharmacist is again ex-officio notified as Drug Inspector, Allopath.

 “We do not have laboratories to check the drugs and we are trying to tie up with accredited laboratories in mainland,” said Dr. Paul.

There have been cases of Over the Counter (OTC) drug abuses throughout the territory. According to reliable sources, cases of abuse of Spasmo Proxyvon were reported from Car Nicobar where more than 13 youngsters died due to cardiac dilation in the last two to three years, which were attributed to the drug.

The alarming proportion of abuse of Codeine-based cough syrups and its availability in the nook and corner of the Islands reported by LOA in 2012 (COVER STORY: C-Company: Silent Killer on Prowl) had exposed the extent of the issue.

"There is no restriction on Ayurvedic medicines being sold by anyone," Satyavan Singh says. However, if the drug contains contraband like narcotics, according to Health authorities, it comes under the purview of police.

There seems to be blatant ignorance on one side and total evasion of one's responsibility. It is learnt that not a single case has been filed yet.

Its high time the  authorities wake up and put in place a system to monitor the free flow of dangerous and hazardous drugs in the market. Till then, it would be prudent on the part of the heath authorities to at least move out of the cosy chambers and find a way out using the existing mechanism instead of shirking responsibility.