STRONG ARM OF THE STATE

Is the ED be­com­ing a tool in the hands of the gov­ern­ment to set­tle po­lit­i­cal scores?

India Today - - CONTENTS - By Ro­hit Par­i­har

When Ra­jen­dra S. Bid­huri, Congress MLA from Begu in Chit­tor­garh dis­trict, in­formed Di­nesh M.N., IGP, Anti-Cor­rup­tion Bureau, about SHO Viren­dra Singh Cha­ran of­fer­ing him a Rs 50 lakh share of the bribes he col­lects from the il­le­gal opium husk trade, the top cop was taken aback. “It’s not very of­ten that we get such cases of a ‘re­verse trap’,” he says. He had rea­son to be­lieve the SHO’s claims—in a recorded con­ver­sa­tion with Bid­huri, Cha­ran said that his area yields Rs 4 crore in opium bribes an­nu­ally. In Jan­uary this year, the ACB had caught deputy com­mis­sioner, Cen­tral Bureau of Nar­cotics (CBN), Kota Sahi Ram Meena, for tak­ing hefty bribes to fa­cil­i­tate the il­licit opium traf­fic. Three more of­fi­cials had landed in the net in April. Shortly af­ter the tip-off, the ACB ar­rested SHO Cha­ran af­ter trap­ping his agent.

The law heav­ily reg­u­lates opium cul­ti­va­tion in In­dia, in­clud­ing the 37,000 li­censed fields in six dis­tricts of Ra­jasthan. The CBN pro­cures opium for var­i­ous agen­cies for medicinal use. Since 2016, the gov­ern­ment has or­dered the burn­ing of poppy husk which ear­lier was sold through li­censed vends on med­i­cal pre­scrip­tions but was freely avail­able. The CBN, along with the po­lice and ex­cise depart­ment, take a series of steps to ear­mark the opium grown on ev­ery field. They record how the crop is do­ing, how much sap drips out of freshly lanced pop­pies, col­lect the crop when it is ready and en­sure the husk is burnt.

Bureau of­fi­cials des­ig­nate one farmer as chief of a few grow­ers to fa­cil­i­tate li­cens­ing and su­per­vi­sion, but it’s hardly ef­fi­cient. Says Sau­rabh Sri­vas­tava, ADG, ACB: “Farm­ers al­ways want to pro­duce more, so that they can sell the ex­tra il­le­gally. The sup­posed reg­u­la­tors take a cut for look­ing the other way. This in­cludes ev­ery vi­o­la­tion such as declar­ing a crop dam­aged when it is not or husk burnt when it is be­ing smug­gled out.”

In the case of Sahi Ram

Meena, the ACB re­cov­ered Rs 2.5 crore in cash and as­sets worth Rs 200 crore. Bribes at the field level are es­ti­mated to run up to Rs 100 crore each year. The money of­fi­cials ex­tort dur­ing trans­port and dis­tri­bu­tion is any­body’s guess. SHO Cha­ran has al­leged that col­lec­tors and po­lice chiefs of the opium-grow­ing dis­tricts get a share of the bribes, which led to C.P. Joshi, BJP MP from Chit­tor­garh, call­ing for a CBI in­ves­ti­ga­tion and narco tests of prom­i­nent of­fi­cials and politi­cians in opium-grow­ing ar­eas in­clud­ing him­self.

There are al­ready al­le­ga­tions that Bid­huri got the SHO ar­rested so that he could get his man into the lu­cra­tive post. Il­le­gal opium is sold to ad­dicts in most parts of the state en route to Pun­jab and Haryana. In ‘Udta Ra­jasthan’, very few want to take on the il­le­gal trade fear­ing the wrath of the opium farm­ers, a pow­er­ful vote bank.

SAP­PING An opium field in full bloom in ru­ral Nim­ba­hera, Chit­tor­garh

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