There are times when facts have to be fictionalised to drive home the point. More so when it is difficult to substantiate for others what one has experienced firsthand. This is precisely what author Aditya Kant has done in his debut novel, High on Kasol.

A journalist by profession, Kant has enough insights into the dark world of drugs, and chose his native district of Kullu in Himachal Pradesh to highlight issues intertwined with the menace of drugs.

It is well known that the pristine hills of Himachal have been reeling under the menace of drugs for some time, and experts say that the impact will be dreadful in the years to come unless stringent action is taken now.

There are lessons to be learnt from what the drug menace has done to the youth of Punjab - and the scourge has travelled to Haryana as well.

“Fiction is also a way to make the people, particularly the young first-time readers, aware of how drugs are wreaking havoc in the social sphere. It can also be a preventive tool.

“I have tried to reach out to these youngsters who would never bother to read academic reports or who would never quite understand the difficult terminologies when drugs are discussed in seminars and workshops. But they surely gather some information while reading a racy novel,” says Kant.

The book touches on phenomena being reported in bits and pieces from Himachal for quite some time. There is the issue of foreigners going missing. Then there is the sad reality of a large number of youngsters visiting the state for drugs. In addition to this is the obvious angle of interstate crime.

But the most important thing is the impact of drug money and the economy on local livelihoods, ecology, and the closeknit culture and beliefs of the locals.

The plot takes off with the disappearance of an Israeli woman who ironically came to Kasol in Kullu to probe the phenomena of missing foreigners. The protagonist is a writer working on a plot for a TV serial who is putting up at a local guest house. He gets involved in a series of incidents that lead to the unravelling of many dark secrets at the place.

It is well known that cannabis grown in Himachal Pradesh is extremely popular and travels down the hills and gurgling rivers to find a good market in places like Delhi, Goa and even abroad. Charas going by the name of Malana Cream is very popular even amongst the travelers coming from abroad.

But more dangerous is the trend that seems to have set in the last few years, where there is a reverse flow of drugs like chitta and heroin mixed with other chemicals into Himachal from other states, and local youth falling prey to the menace.

Some startling facts about the drug scene in Himachal were brought to the fore in a first of its kind report of a nationwide survey released as ‘Magnitude of Substance Use in India 2019’.

This report prepared by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi and the National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre and released by the Union social justice ministry remains the benchmark.

The report revealed that the hill state with a projected population of around 75 lakhs in 2021 was behind just the northeastern states, Punjab, Haryana and Delhi in the ‘quantum of work’, which measures harmful use plus dependence on several drugs.

It was found that the population using charas and ganja was above the national average. The state ranked fourth in harmful or dependent use of inhalants.

The authorities have been making efforts to tackle the menace but surely a lot more needs to be done. Each year the police carry out a drive to destroy cannabis that grows as a weed. Teachers and staff at the tehsil level have been trained for primary screening, counselling and prevention.

In 2019 the Himachal Pradesh High Court had directed the state government to come out with a policy to rehabilitate drug addicts. In 2020 the state government announced that it would be bringing about a ‘State Policy of Drug Prevention, Treatment, Management and Rehabilitation Programme’.

A Nasha Nivaran Board was set up, which is learnt to have prepared an integrated document that has been sent to the government. But the government response in the form of objections and suggestions is yet to come, sources disclosed.

Vijay Kumar, director of the drug demand reduction programme being run by the NGO Gunjan told The Citizen that “A delay in a formal policy on drugs is adding on to the burden. A policy can help tackle the adolescents sitting at the entry point of substance use. If this can be done, half the battle is won as the focus can be on those who are addicted to substance.

“A policy will help tackle various categories of potential users like schoolgoing children, those outside the purview of educational institutions, and of course teenagers.”

Shalini Agnihotri, a former Superintendent of Police at Kullu, had suggested in a presentation on tackling drugs that an interdisciplinary and interdepartmental approach is needed with the participation of prosecution, revenue, forest, health, education, agriculture, horticulture and other departments.

At the interstate level, it is Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh who has been demanding a National Drug Policy to tackle the scourge.

Calling for the support of all stakeholders to fight the menace, which he termed a global problem, Singh said a couple of weeks ago that while the neighbouring states of Haryana, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi had agreed to put in place an effective mechanism for tackling drug smuggling, no significant progress had been made.

Punjab’s Director General of Police Dinkar Gupta said the state police had busted various pharmaceutical drug units in Punjab and other states by seizing huge quantities of pharmaceutical drugs including tramadol, alprax and benadryl. A factory was busted in Narela on the outskirts of Delhi, and was found supplying pharmaceutical drugs across 17 states including Punjab.

There have been similar drug hauls from factories in Kala Amb and Paonta Sahib in Himachal as well, on allegations of running an opioid trafficking racket.