Cultivating a ‘high’

Farmers cultivate poppy as a cash crop. Tradition requires its use in bakery. But its bumper produce is challenging the administration’s efficiency and strength to prevent its use for preparing narcotics. Hamidullah Dar reports.
Millions of colourful poppy flowers bloomed in June sun as hundreds of farmers hoped for a bumper crop in five districts of Kashmir.
Crores were expected to rain in Pulwama, Islamabad, Shopian, Kulgam and Budgam districts as 7000 hectares were basking in the flow of this illegal but precious crop.
As the farmers awaited a bumper harvest of the most profitable crop that fetches around 20-30 thousand rupees per kanal, official machinery turned on. Residents of 125 villages in south Kashmir watched as officials ran tractors through their fields demolishing the crop.
A pensive Gani Mir of Panzgam now gleans unripe poppy heads from his fields ravaged by a tractor.
“The wrong of a few people snatched my crop that could have paid my debts from my daughter’s marriage. Now I have to sell a patch of land instead,” remarks Mir.
His words have few takers in Kashmir. Lateef Ahmad, a shopkeeper in Zainapora has different views. “We also used to cultivate poppy for domestic use but in 2006 some machines were seized at Safnagri where dried poppy heads were ground into powder and sold as narcotics. There indeed are many people who do put this lucrative crop to wrong use,” says Lateef.
Poppy grains are valued at Rs 200 a kilogram but the husk of poppy heads is sold at Rs 500 per kilogram.
J&K government’s poppy destruction drive was halted by the Shopian crisis which stirred unrest across Kashmir Valley. Although poppy crop worth crores of rupees was destroyed, the spared lot is believed to be worth much more.
“Poppy was cultivated in Marhama, Waghama, Nanil, Tulkhan, Katriteng and Dupatyar village in our jurisdiction and we destroyed it all. There may be small patches in kitchen gardens with poppy that evaded our notice but overall the narcotic crop stands destroyed in our area,” said Nisar Ahmad, Station House Officer Bijbehara.
His counterpart at Police Station Zainapora, M Maqbool Malik decried lack of coordination among police, revenue and excise officials in destroying poppy crop.
“Revenue and excise officials must be at the forefront of the crusade against the narcotic crop but what we see is the lack of coordination among them. My policemen destroyed the crop with sticks as there was no mechanical help at their disposal. The indifference of excise and revenue departments in this regard proved a hurdle at numerous places,” blurts Malik.
However, Altaf Ahmad Rather, City Range Inspector Excise Department refutes Malik’s words. “Police have proved an elusive help at times when we needed it. Sometimes we were left to wait from 8 am to 1 pm for a police escort. Even on two occasions we had to return without doing anything when we were not provided security by police at Chadoora,” complains Rather, adding that Excise department managed to destroy poppy on 2766 kanals of land in Pulwama and Budgam districts.
In the Zainapora area, Wandna, Melhoora, Safnagri, Wachi, Awaneera and Darbagh villages witnessed a bloom of poppy flowers that, according to Malik, has been reduced to trash by the police. However, poppy heads can still be seen spread out to dry on tarpaulin sheets at Awaneera, though in small quantities.
An elderly woman watching the drying poppy heads stuttered when asked about the yield source where entire crop is claimed to have been destroyed. “We gleaned it from the ploughed fields and it is just for domestic consumption. The authorities have left nothing behind and there is no question of any illegality now.”
A few other women who had joined us in the meanwhile said that the crop fetches many times more than that of rice so they opt for it.
Muhammad Ali, a school teacher from Aglar village says that south Kashmir has become a haven for smugglers who procure narcotics for its onward disposal. “Be it charas or poppy, people in south Kashmir have taken it as an occupation which is not a good thing for a better society. Our youth will one day end up as addicts that can spell doom for us all.”
Unlike other countries, there are no reports of obtaining opium from poppy cultivated in south Kashmir. However in Kashmir, the dried poppy heads are ground into powder and then reportedly sold to smugglers from outside the state, mostly Punjab. Many Kashmiris have been arrested under the NDPS Act and are languishing in different Indian jails. They were booked under laws that deprive them of legal aid. Some of them are behind bars for the last six years but still it has not proved a deterrent in the valley particularly its southern parts.
“We have lodged 16 cases against those cultivating poppy in Pulwama district. Besides, excise department distributed about 10,000 pamphlets among farmers informing them about its illegality and the punishment incurred,” says Mansoor Alam, Deputy Excise Commissioner Kashmir.
Poppy in Kashmir villages is grown for its seed which is used in bakery in Kashmir. There is a market requirement of more than 100 tonnes in the valley alone that needs to be fulfilled locally. Although poppy crop is banned but the stockists in Srinagar admit that they procure poppy seeds from local farmers. “I have sold 3 tonnes last year which came from south Kashmir. There are rumours that poppy seeds are imported from Turkey but I tell you that we not only neutralise the demand by locally cultivated crop but also supply it to other states”, says a stockist pleading anonymity.
“There is a provision for cultivation of poppy on three marlas of land for every farmer after obtaining permission from Excise department and it can meet the demand for use in bakery. However, what people generally do is they cultivate it on acres not marlas which definitely is for ill purposes and needs destruction”, Adds Alam.
Poppy is harvested from first week of June and therefore the Excise department will not go for further drives. “After first week of June, it is a futile exercise as there is hardly any standing crop available around. People need to know that this obnoxious trend of poppy cultivation is spreading north wards. It started from Pulwama and Islamabad having spread to Shopian and is now cultivated in Budgam. If we do not arrest this trend, Kashmir definitely is heading to a narcotic disaster,” says Rather.
With a vast area left untouched by the authorities due to lack of coordination among various departments, the poppy harvest will trigger another problem; the percolation of Fukki, a product of poppy. In coming days police will claim to have recovered Fukki consignments that could have been reduced to ashes had there been coordination a few weeks ago.

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