The Supreme Court today directed the Centre to complete a national survey and generate a data base within six months about the drug abuse by children saying "protecting children from wide-spread prevalence of substance abuse is one of the biggest policy challenges facing India".
The apex court also directed the Union Government to formulate a comprehensive plan within four months to curb the menace among children.
A bench of Chief Justice T S Thakur and Justices A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud also directed the Centre to adopt a specific content in the school curriculum under the aegis of the National Education Policy (NEP).
"The Union government shall complete a national survey and generate a national data base within a period of six months, formulate and adopt a comprehensive national plan within four months, which will among other things also address the areas of immediate concern noted earlier and adopt specific content in the school curriculum under the aegis of NEP," the bench said.
It said, "India is home to the largest child population in the world with over forty-four crore children, according to the census of 2011...They constitute a vulnerable age group for social, educational, moral and physical development. Protecting children from wide-spread prevalence of substance abuse is one of the biggest policy challenges facing India".
The 21-page judgement penned down by Justice D Y Chandrachud for the bench said that the importance of adopting a holistic solution to deal with issues pertaining to alcohol, tobacco and drug abuse in the school curriculum has to be "adequately emphasised".
The directions were passed on a 2014 PIL filed by NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan of Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi.
The NGO, in its plea, had sought a direction to formulate a national action plan for children on drugs and substance abuse including all issues of identification, investigation, recovery, counselling and rehabilitation.
The bench further said that the entire issue is pending consideration before the government, it would be appropriate to await the "ultimate formulation".
The court said that it would appropriate if the competent authorities consider how children should be protected from the dangers of substance abuse.
The apex court said that these are serious matters and
they should not taken lightly and brushed aside.
"These are matters which should not be brushed under the carpet. The authorities should consider how children should be sensitised (having due regard to the age and stage of the child) of the dangers of drug use, the necessity to report drug use and the need to develop resistance to prevailing peer and social pressures," it said.
With regard to formulation of curriculum incorporating appropriate aspects of generating awareness and sensitisation, the bench noted that a consultative process has been initiated by the government and the theme relating to eradication of alcohol and drug abuse will be included.
The bench said that Centre's proposed national policy on drug demand reduction must also address the need for setting up de-addiction centres in every district and address specific vulnerabilities particularly in the context of high risk populations including children.
"We direct that this exercise be completed and that a national policy be formulated within a period of six months from today," the bench said, noting that the basic deficiency is that the Centre is not having authentic data on the number of victims of substance abuse in India.
"This is a basic deficiency which the Union government must redress at the earliest. We direct that the Union government shall expeditiously conclude the national survey on drug abuse within a period of six months from today," the bench said.
It flagged the immediate issues which require remedial attention and listed the formulation of a national action plan for children, creation of a module containing an appropriate curriculum for children of all age groups in order to keep them away from drugs, alcohol and tobacco in that regard.
The bench said other concerns include setting up of de-addiction centres, establishing a standard operating procedure on enforcing the provisions of the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act and implementation of the action plan with the national policy on narcotic drugs and psychotropic substance which has been approved by the Centre.
"Generation of reliable data is an essential requirement of a policy aimed at curbing substance abuse. In the absence of accurate data at a national, state and sectoral level, policy interventions can at best remain ad hoc," it said.
The apex court said that in the absence of data there will be no realistic assessment of the nature and extent of policy interventions required with regard to vulnerable states and regions, high risk populations and requirement of infrastructure, including de-addiction centres across the states.
The court, however, said that there have been numerous statements of policy by different arms of the government but what is not there is a comprehensive formulation of a national plan which will form the basis of coordinated intervention by the Union and states.
The apex court clarified that the enormity of the problem makes it impractical for the judicial process to address all issues in one proceeding.
"We have done so on the basis of the existing policy framework of the Union government, as evidenced by the material to which we have adverted in the prefatory part of this judgement. We have not laid down policy in exercise of judicial review. We have issued directions to enforce obligations under the existing legislative and administrative framework," it said.
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