Opium Smug­gling Hits New High

Il­licit poppy trade reaches un­prece­dented lev­els in the Malwa- Me­war belt. Low pro­curem ent prices are to blame.

India Today - - INSIDE - By Shafi Rah­man

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


VIKRAM SHARMA/ www. in­di­a­to­day­im­ages. com


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