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29/09/2007 00:00:00

Kashmir: The Garden Goes to Pot

Kashmiri farmers are increasingly turning to cultivating cannabis and
poppy, the crops fetching them higher returns both within the state and

Cannabis and poppy are burgeoning in Kashmir’s fields. Cultivated
illegally, the two crops produce enough charas (hashish) and afeem
(opium) to drive a flourishing drug trade and sustain a substantial part
of the state’s agrarian economy. In south Kashmir in particular, the
crops have struck deep roots. There seems to be no village, no matter
how small or remote, where people are not growing the crops and ensuring
their steady supply in and outside the Valley.

Despite severe inhibitions towards their cultivation in the past, the
crops seem to have found acceptance among the farmers, who raise them in
lieu of other traditional crops. Cannabis and poppy witnessed a surge in
cultivation in the late 80s and are now a common sight in the rural
areas. Officials in the state’s Excise department attribute the growth
in their cultivation to the collapse of law and order since the onset of
militancy in the state in 1989. “The era of militancy witnessed
lawlessness in the Valley and subsequently led to proliferation of
cannabis and poppy fields. It became difficult for the department to
bridle the violators. At that time we could not even think of
prohibiting them to stop its cultivation, leave alone talk of using
force in destroying the crop,” said Qasim Wani, deputy commissioner at
the Excise department. In 2001, Excise officials initiated a drive to
destroy the crops but met little success.

The real reason for the surge is the well-organised network of smugglers
that delivers the final product to major cities like New Delhi, Mumbai,
Bengaluru and Ahmedabad. "Since 2001 we have been destroying the crop
but we have not managed to wipe it out. Our efforts are still in infancy
as these fields reappear time and again. Earlier, we used to launch the
drive in September but this year we started it in May to achieve the
desired results,” Wani said. Officials not only hire labourers for
destroying the standing crop but also take with them contingents of
state police and sometimes of the Army to quell any resentment.

Earlier, there were assertions of an existing nexus between militants
and drug traffickers in Kashmir. However, Excise officials rule out any
such nexus and say they have never come across any resistance from the
militant outfits. “It is the people who resist during the destroying of
the crop,” said Shams Din, field inspector in the Excise department.
Farmers cultivating the crop say inadequate irrigation facilities and
dry spells in past years are reasons that have compelled them to grow
the crops. Both cannabis and poppy do not require much moisture.

Excise officials, however, dismiss the argument and say it is only the
incentive of money that drives farmers towards cultivating the banned
crops. “The crop earns them enough bucks and this is the only motive
that prompts the farmers to cultivate the banned crops,” says Shamas
Din. As per estimates provided by the Revenue department, poppy
cultivation is spread over 500 acres of land. A farmer gets 20 times
more money from poppy than from paddy and that too with minimal efforts.

Likewise, cannabis is cultivated over 2,500 acres of land in south
Kashmir. In the two south Kashmir districts of Anantnag and Pulwama,
more than 60 villages have gained notoriety for cannabis and poppy
cultivation. Bijbehara, Tulkhan, Wagahama, Marhama, Dupatyaar, Ladroo,
Sangam, Naioonu, Kawan, Melharoo, Wachi, Mooman, Tral and Hari Parigam
are some villages where the cultivation has flourished over these years.
Some villages in even the higher hilly regions are increasingly raising
cannabis in place of paddy. These areas, generally in the interior of
the villages, remain outside the sight of officials of the Excise
department, who generally carry out their surveys from the roads in
their vehicles.

The cultivation of poppy and cannabis requires licence from the
government. Officials inform that not a single farmer in Kashmir has
been issued the required license by the Central Bureau of Narcotics. The
poppy pods are generally cut with a blade and the latex is collected in
a can, which is then processed to make opium. In Kashmir, the latex is
collected only rarely. Farmers after collecting the poppy seeds sell the
shells to smugglers, who grind it to form a fine powder called fukki.
The fukki is smuggled outside the state and is used for smoking.

Although the government claims that people are being booked under the
Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS), on the ground it
has not yielded any visible change. Officials say 40 people were booked
for cultivating cannabis and poppy last year. “We launch our drive in
association with police and revenue officials. After destroying the
crop, the police get the details about land from revenue officials and
file FIRs against the farmers. We take action generally against the big
landholders as a warning to the smaller ones,” Wani says.

Central enforcement agencies like Customs and the Central Bureau of
Narcotics too visit these fields once a year to destroy the plantations.
On an average, a farmer earns Rs 14,000 to 15,000 per kilogram of fine
charas, the final product of cannabis. The traffickers who peddle it
outside get an equal amount as freight and in cities like Mumbai, New
Delhi, Bengaluru and Ahmedabad, its price goes up to Rs. 40,000 to
60,000 depending upon the quality.

In the process of peddling the charas and fukki outside the state, many
agents get arrested. Yet, thousands of kilograms are smuggled outside
every year. In the valley itself there has been a sharp increase in the
number of addicts. Dr Arshad Hussain, a prominent psychiatrist in the
state, says: “When you have free availability of drugs in the area,
there is every possibility that youngsters will fall prey to it. There
are thousands of people who are addicted to charas and other harder
substances.” Psychiatrists say weak policing and security measures make
it easy for traffickers to expand their lucrative trade

Author: Tehelka via UKCIA

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