India’s Sports Ministry has cleared a proposal to punish athletes that are caught doping, reported the Indian Express on Saturday. The move will make doping a criminal offence and will be at par with laws that govern the usage of narcotics, senior unnamed officials of the National Anti Doping Agency and the ministry to the publication.

The proposed legislation will aim to punish coaches and manufacturers, who mostly supply athletes with performance-enhancing substances.

“The use, storage and trade in narcotics is considered to be a criminal offence. We wanted doping to be put in the same category. The reason being if narcotics alter your mental condition, doping substances have an affect on your physical condition. Both are very harmful for the body,” said Agarwal.

A draft has been made to criminalise the offence and will be forwarded to the Sports Ministry before the law ministry gets involved. However, it will have to be passed by the Parliament for it to be an Act. The entire process will take around six months, according to NADA director general Naveen Agarwal.

“It will need the engagement of several agencies. Once doping is made a criminal offence, it will act as a deterrent. As much as complying with the idea of clean sports, this is also about realising that doping causes acute harm to the abuser. So, it’s important to prevent that,” said Sports Secretary Injeti Srinivas.

According to the World Anti-Doping Agency code, athletes caught doping could face a four-year ban for the first offence and an eight-year sanction if they are caught for the second time.

India ranks third on the global list of dope-offenders compiled by WADA since the past three years. Hence, the legislation was drafted by the Sports Ministry to make it an effective deterrent.

Agarwal said he had met WADA director-general Olivier Niggli in Lausanne, Switzerland, last week, who urged that legislation should be made to curb the uses of drugs in sport.

NADA has also sought assistance from the Australian Anti-Doping Agency in forming the legislation considering Australia is among the handful countries which has an anti-doping Act.

“The rules are yet to be framed. We have to work out the modus operandi of the Act. There could be a prison term also,” Agarwal said.

Agarwal said that many cases of coaches asking athletes to take the banned substance have gone unpunished. “We cannot take any action against the coach because he hasn’t committed a criminal offence as per the law. This will change once this Act is passed,” he said.

“Similarly, many manufacturers and suppliers of nutritional supplements add artificial elements to their products but do not display them on the labels. Not just athletes, many people who go to gyms to get well-toned bodies fall prey to this. There are temporary short-term results at the cost of long-term health hazards. This is a public health issue, so a proper legislation and criminalisation is required,” said Agarwal.