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LAHORE: The patients are suffering a great deal while the government exchequer facing loss of millions of rupees annually due to “unlawful closure” of the only public sector opium factory.

Established under Prohibition of Enforcement of Hadd Order 1979 in Lahore, the Government Opium Alkaloid Factory was shut down in 2012 by the then regime of excise and taxation department without citing any solid reason.

The factory is dysfunctional since then and the authorities in Punjab seem to be reluctant to reopen the facility, ignoring repeated directions and reminders issued by the Ministry of Interior & Narcotics Control Islamabad.

An official privy to the information told Dawn, a couple of years after the factory’s closure, the excise and taxation department rented out its premises to a private firm to manufacture registration number plates for the vehicles.

He said the firm was still occupying the factory premises, while its (factory’s) trained staff was working at the strength of various other sections of the department.

The prime objective of raising the country’s only state-owned facility was the provision of medicinal opium powder to the licensed pharmaceutical companies, and the herbal centres all over the country to manufacture medicines.

The pure and high-quality opium seized by the law enforcement agencies in any part of the country was dispatched to the Opium Alkaloid Factory in Lahore absolutely free when it was functional.

The major sources of opium supply to the factory included the Pakistan Coast Guard, Karachi, Pakistan Rangers, Frontier Constabulary, Quetta and the police who would seize smuggled drug from the criminals.

The opium would be re-processed and refined in the factory and the license holders would get the drug at rate of Rs20,000 per kilogram from the excise department to use in manufacturing of various medicines.

The factory has also been dispensing refined opium pills to the registered hardcore addicts across the province under laid down rules.

For functioning of the factory, Punjab E&T director general, as the competent authority, would issue licences.

The official lamented that the patients as well as the pharmaceutical companies suffered a huge loss during the over six-year closure of the facility as the production of many medicines had to be stopped due to non-provision of medicinal opium powder.

After closure of the factory, the law enforcement agencies had no option but to destroy the drug.

However, the Ministry of Narcotics Control (MNC) remained in contact with the Punjab government through official correspondence to reopen the factory.

It sent several reminders to the provincial government mentioning the gravity of the situation with regard to problems being faced by the patients because of factory closure.

On finding the Punjab government unmoved, the ministry in its recent letter to the Punjab authorities said, “It may be seen that the matter is long pending for want of views/comments from your side.

“As a result, not only the business of (pharma) firms is getting negatively affected, but also Ministry of Narcotics Control is not in a position to consider their requests for granting them the required quantities of substances and is only informing that policy is under consideration.

“This sounds odd when these firms approach the MNC second or third time.”

The ministry requested again that input might be communicated to it without any further delay.

“I would request you to look into the matter personally and direct the concerned to expedite provision of views/comments at (the) earliest”, reads the letter.

A year earlier, the Punjab finance department had also warned the excise & taxation secretary that it would abolish all the posts (of employees) if the factory was not reopened.

In response to the finance department warning, the excise secretary wrote to the Punjab (excise) director general, in a letter on Feb 16, 2017, that the opium factory might be made functional within 90 days, otherwise all posts of its employees would be abolished and the budget estimates for the 2017-18 would be blocked.

“Kindly look personally into the matter on top priority basis for activation of the said factory and furnish all updates to the administrative department for onward transmission to the quarter concerned”, reads the letter.

However, despite passage of a year no practical measures were taken in this regard, the official lamented.

When contacted, Punjab Excise & Taxation DG Akram Ashraf Gondal said his office had been dealing with the issue before the establishment of the new narcotics wing.

Since the new director general of Punjab Narcotics Force had been appointed by the government, he would be in a better position to comment on the matter of the Alkaloid Factory closure, he said.

Punjab Narcotics Force DG Raja Zahid told Dawn he assumed the office recently and was unable to give any deadline for making the factory functional. However, he said, the steps would be taken to reopen the facility keeping in view the patients’ problems.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2018