Opium Smuggling Hits New High
Illicit poppy trade reaches unprecedented levels in the Malwa- Mewar belt. Low procurem ent prices are to blame.
Illicit poppy trade reaches unprecedented levels in the Malwa- Mewar belt. Low procurement prices are to blame.
In Neemuch, the heat will strike you like a blast furnace. But what will blow you off is the aroma from the fields of swollen poppy bulbs dripping with opium. Sameer Yadav, 38, the district deputy superintendent of police, drives around in his Bolero looking for opium headed for illicit trade from the licensed fields of Neemuch’s villages, one dustier than the last. “Opium smuggling has reached unprecedented levels this year,” he says.
The Malwa- Mewar belt spanning Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, in which Neemuch is situated, is home to 38,000 of the 44,000 hectares of li- censed opium cultivation in the country. The belt is one of the few places in the world where poppy is cultivated under the supervision of the International Narcotics Control Board for legitimate medical needs. It has also become a hotbed of opium smuggling. “They devise new methods of smuggling. Sometimes, it is an extra fuel tank in a Maruti or public transport carrier,” says Yadav, who patrols the highway leading to Kota, Rajasthan, with his team of five policemen.
The police vigil in the region has resulted in some success. On New Year eve, 115 kg of opium straw was seized from the four- lane highway in Nimbahera, Rajasthan. On February 9, the police intercepted Dhannalal, a farmer, in Neemuch, and seized 8 kg of opium from his Maruti. Another farmer, Bhagatram Lohar, 38, was caught with 8 kg of opium at Rathanghat in Neemuch on February 26. On April 8, another 15 kg was seized in Daulapura village in Neemuch from Bhavrira Dhar, a farmer. Also in April, the police seized eight kg of opium concealed in sacks of garlic on its way to Kota from Neemuch in Madhya Pradesh. But the biggest catch for the police came when Dhanraj aka Dhanna Teli Rathore, 45, a notorious smuggler from Antrimata village, Neemuch, was arrested in March with 48 kg of opium.
Farmers are stuck with poor Government procurement prices and rising cost of cultivation. “The price of opium has remained static since 1996 at a rate of Rs 1,500 per kg while its price in the illicit trade has shot up manifold,” says Ramchandra Nagola, 55, a farmer leader in Neemuch. “These are not onions, these are poppies. It needs care and affection and that won’t come cheap. The labour charges have gone up to Rs 300 to Rs 350 for a day, while it is just Rs 100 for onion and garlic fields,” says Jaffer Khan, 50, a farmer from Neemuch.
With smugglers offering a much better bargain for their produce, under- reporting produce to make a killing in the grey market is too lucra- tive a proposition to resist. Smugglers offer Rs 7,000 a kg; it’s much more if it is processed into heroin.
Poppy has a short growing season from September to March.“It needs expertise to take opium out of poppy,” says Khan as he slits poppy bulbs to bleed opium. Farmers slit the bulbs in the evening and collect opium early next morning. Nilgais are a nuisance in the belt, with farmers often having to keep vigil tolling bells through the night. “I think they have developed an addiction. They raid the fields frequently,” says Khan. Scorpions and snakes also get attracted to poppy. “But human snakes are the most venomous,” says farmer Madan Lal, 54, referring to thieves.
The government sets a minimum qualifying yield ( MQY) at the beginning of the season, 45 kg per hectare this year. MQY is the cornerstone of the control mechanism. If a farmer fails to produce 45 kg per hectare, he loses his licence. From December, over a six- week period Central Bureau of Narcotics officials begin measuring the fields. The licensee and two independent witnesses accompany officials on each measurement. Later, the district opium officer takes random samples from fields to ensure authenticity. If the licensees are found cultivating an area in excess of that in the records at any point of time, their licence is cancelled permanently.
At Nimbahera, farmers cultivating poppy are put to their final yearly test and made to hand over the year’s crop to the government. The produce is then transported to the government- run alkaloid factories at Ghazipur in Rajasthan and Neemuch.
At Nimbahera, beneath a huge tent, District Opium Officer N. C. Singh, 48, is inspecting neatly- packed opium cans. “You are a thief,” he shouts at Raman Lal, 26, who has landed up with only 4 kg of opium from his half- hectare field, way below the target set by the Government. Raman Lal says his crop was affected by extreme cold winds. Farmers are supposed to destroy their crop in the presence of officials if they feel they
WOMEN ATAPOPPYFIELD IN MANDSAUR, MADHYAPRADESH
AFARMER POURING OPIUM IN NEEMUCH