- Navjot Sidhu said his uncle "took opium and lived a long life"
- He is supporting a doctor pitching for legalisation of opium cultivation
- SAD used Mr Sidhu's statement to attack Congress government in Punjab
Punjab minister Navjot Singh Sidhu has supported an Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader in his demand to legalise the sale and cultivation of opium in the state. The suspended member of Parliament from Patiala, AAP's Dharamvir Gandhi, a doctor, has been pitching for legalisation of poppy and opium cultivation.
"Dharamvir Gandhi is doing a very good thing, I support him," Mr Sidhu told news agency ANI and added that that his uncle "took opium and lived a long life".
"My uncle used to get opium as medicine from hospital. He lived a long life," he said.
Daljit Singh Cheema of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) used Navjot Singh Sidhu's statement to attack the Congress government in the state. This is the first official admission of the cabinet minister that the state government cannot solve the problem of drugs in the state, Mr Cheema said.
"They had promised that they will finish the problem of drugs in four weeks of coming to power. They have admitted that they failed to control the drug problem even after two years. Now they are floating the new theory to divert public attention," Mr Cheema told ANI.
Meanwhile, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh supported his minister and called for a national drug policy to save the young generation, saying a comprehensive formula was needed at the national level to effectively check the drug abuse.
The national policy could also address the need for cultivation of drugs needed for the pharmaceutical industry, he said, adding that centre should involve states and experts while formulating such a policy.
Stressing that he had been clamouring for such a policy since his previous tenure as Chief Minister back in 2007, Mr Singh welcomed the fact that the issue had taken centre stage due to the growing demand for opium cultivation by certain states.
"States like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan were growing opium. They found a lucrative market in Punjab," Captain Amarinder Singh said.
A mechanism was needed to wipe out the scourge of drugs, he said, underlining the need for a national policy to deal with the problem.
"One state growing drugs, especially opium, and another not doing ...leading to an unacceptable situation in the country," the chief minister added.
In July, Amarinder Singh had ordered a mandatory dope test for all government employees, as part of a slew of measures taken to eliminate drug menace from Punjab.
The orders came when the Punjab Chief Minister formally communicated his cabinet's recommendation to the Centre, seeking an amendment to the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act to provide death penalty to those guilty, including first-time offenders.
(With inputs from agencies)