Professional - Deputy Director, Narcotics Control Bureau

Bitter Harvest for Poppy Growers
(24 May 1988)
By Jagdish Bhatt

    CHAKRATA (Dehra Dun), May 23.
    A Week after operation "Opium Assault", carried out by about 300 men, including Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) led by Mrs Kiran Bedi, the tribals of Jaunsar Bawar are still afraid of returning to their villages due to fear of legal action.
    In raids in this hilly tract, the team destroyed poppy cultivation in about 50 acres, which according to NCB experts would produce about 60,000 kgs of opium. This can be converted into 1,200 kgs of pure heroin, worth a fortune in the international market.
    The irony of the raid, however, was that all the illegal cultivators could not be booked.
    The reason according to the locals is that there are two belts in which poppy is cultivated. The residents below Tiuni had already harvested the crop in the first week of the month while the crop above Tiuni which ripens towards the end of the month was the one destroyed in the operation.
    Poppy cultivation is an age-old occupation in this tribal pocket. What is surprising is that even the district records show poppy cultivation as the crop the tribals grow. But apparently no action was ever taken because of the involvement of the opium Mafia which has the patronage of some local politicians.

    The team which carried out the exercise for a full week were in for a surprise when they found that even Government officials were growing opium on their land.
Cash crop
    Poppy is the cash crop of the area and has been so since pre-partition days. The opium that is collected from the poppy pods, after they are sliced are initially sold at Yamuna Nagar. Later it was taken to Punjab where the demand for it was high, through the adjoining Himachal Pradesh. However, with the conversion of opium into heroin, the market shifted again and so did the value. There are new reports that there are laboratories that purify the crude opium into heroin in the region itself, but they have yet to be traced.
    According to the locals, the impact of the raid would have been far more if it had been conducted in the last week of April with strictest secrecy. Reports are that by the time Mrs. Kiran Bedi and her men reached Tiuni, word had already reached of the impending raid. Those who could, managed to clear their fields, the others just left their villages and vanished. Some of the villages wear a deserted look.
    Poverty in the region is said to be the cause for poppy cultivation. A kg of opium fetches about Rs 1,500. The buyer in most cases is the village "sayana" who then passes it on to the middlemen through couriers at about four times the cost. The opium reaches its destination through these middlemen.

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