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The Menace of Poppy Plantation in Manipur

Despite the ban on poppy farming in Manipur, its cultivation is widespread. Interestingly many farmers who are dependent upon opium for earning their livelihood are not even aware of the fact that it is illegal. Their only concern is to earn enough for their well-being and their children’s education.

BySanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Updated on 11 Dec 2021, 4:03 pm

(File Photo: IFP)

(File Photo: IFP)

 

In Manipur, cases of drug addiction deaths due to heroin overdose and HIV/AIDS spread due to intravenous drug use are rampant. Manipur contributes nearly eight per cent of India’s total HIV/AIDS cases as per the report of Manipur State Aids Control Society. A part of the state population, including youth and children,  is gripped by drug abuse. Sometimes even officials and politicians are found involved in drug trafficking. The recent incident involving a decorated Manipur police officer and a politician of the ruling party over the arrest of a drug kingpin has shed light on the depth of drug infiltration and corruption in Manipur.

Today in various hill districts of Manipur, poppy plant can be found growing barely a few kilometers from residential areas. Although the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Act 1985 lists poppy as a contraband substance known for its psychotropic effects, the plant is being extensively cultivated in the interior hill areas of the state. Illegal poppy cultivation for opium has been in existence for almost a decade but the production has increased manifold in the last few years. According to a study, it is found that poverty, food insecurity and material needs are the drivers of illegal opium production in Manipur. The short-term measures taken up by law enforcement officials such as forcible eradication of poppy cultivation are insignificant unless and until the government provides these farmers with sustainable alternative livelihood.

The Narcotic and Affairs of Border (NAB), Anti-Narcotic Department, Manipur Police and Assam Riffles regularly destroy poppy and Marijuana (Ganja) crops in the state.  In Manipur, it has become an annual affair to conduct drives against the illicit cultivation of poppy. Despite law enforcement agencies destroying hundreds of acres of poppy plants each year, government survey reports show that poppy cultivation is still rampant across the hill areas of the state. The seizures of different forms of narcotic substance are regularly reported in daily newspapers in Manipur. Poppy is reportedly being cultivated in remote hill areas of the state. The total area under poppy cultivation in different hill districts in Manipur can roughly be estimated to be 6000 acres in 2017-18. The yearly eradication drives by government agencies often destroy around 10 per cent of the total cultivated crops, which is negligible.

Evidently, the authorities’ efforts to check widespread cultivation of poppy have yielded few positive results. From 2020 to February 2021, personal from the NAB, along with the help of other security agencies destroyed poppy plants that were illegally cultivated across more than 1,420 acres of land in seven hill districts – Ukhrul, Kamjong, Churachandpur, Senapati, Kangpokpi, Tengnoupal and Chandel.  During 2017-2019 trienniums Manipur police have destroyed an area of 2,858 acres of poppy cultivation. This joint team manages to destroy approximately 6000 kg of opium with a net worth of over Rs 45 crore.

Based on the data of a study it is evident that one Pari of land can produce 5-7 kg of opium. The price of 1kg of opium in local market usually ranges from Rs 50,000-70,000.  During off-season, the price of opium can go as high as Rs 1,50,000. Compared to other crops, it is a significant return for an area of one acre.  To the marginalized rural people, nothing is more appealing than poppy cultivation. Unlike rice, cereals and vegetables, the return on poppy plantation are significantly higher.

Proximity to the infamous Golden Triangle - Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam – is often cited as a major factor for the proliferation of different forms of banned drugs in Manipur. Official records from the NCB maintain that the crude product of poppy grown in Manipur is smuggled out to the Triangle through the porous India-Myanmar Border. Further, fertile soil, vast economic disparity and availability of cheap labour in the remote hilly areas of Manipur favour poppy cultivation.

According to a PIB release, Manipur has become a haven for opium and Ganja cultivation due to proximity to the Golden Triangle, along with widespread militancy, lack of employment opportunities, hilly terrain and porous border with Myanmar. Both poppy and Marijuana (ganja) produced in Manipur are said to be of high quality. Of late, Marijuana (ganja) growers have shifted to poppy cultivation as the harvest is more profitable. Usually, the production and peddling of illegal drugs are often concentrated in economically backward and deprived regions. Illegal drugs market thrives in places where poor quality housing, lack of local employment or crime is rampant. Lack of infrastructure, corrupt government agencies and poverty has pushed poor farmers into poppy cultivation. Deprived of any form of development and living in conditions of abject poverty, villagers in the interior areas of Manipur cultivate poppy for opium production. For many households, opium production provides off-farming season employment as the opium harvest takes place later. During the harvest season, an individual can earn between Rs 300 to Rs 400 per day which is a decent amount of money in rural Manipur. According to a village chief, “In the past three years poppy cultivation  comes as a substitute owing to the irregularities on the part of the government in providing bare minimum-employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment  Guarantee Act (MGNREGA)” to job cardholders. For many people, including women and children, poppy cultivation has become an income generator during the off season of farming.

Poppy cultivation also has certain advantages over other crops: it can be cultivated almost everywhere and is relatively high value product that has an assured market. Further due to inadequate transportation infrastructure in rural areas, poppy is less cumbersome and can be easily managed unlike other yields. Third, poor rural families are dependent on poppy cultivation for their economic needs. Given the economic scenarios in hill areas of Manipur there are barely any alternative livelihood option that could provide farmers with economically sustainable opportunities and incentives to move away from illegal poppy cultivation.

Despite poppy farming being banned in Manipur, its cultivation is widespread. Interestingly many farmers who are dependent upon opium for earning their livelihood are not even aware of the fact that it is illegal. Their only concern is to earn enough for their well-being and their children’s education. This can only be attained by farming and selling opium.

Forced eradication of poppy cultivation does not usually bring about a sustainable reduction in the cultivation of poppy as it is a one- time short-term effort. In areas where large-scale illegal opium production is rampant, holistic economic development is the only viable solution to wean people away from poppy cultivation. Arguably broad-based development programmes that address economic, social and political issues must be favored over enforced eradication and other repressive and often counterproductive measures. The counter-narcotic action initiated by law enforcing bodies should not be resorted to in a hasty manner before economic alternative are implemented.

(The views expressed is personal)

First published:11 Dec 2021, 4:03 pm

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Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Sanjenbam Jugeshwor Singh

Faculty, JCRE Global College, Imphal, Manipur. The writer can be reached at sjugeshwor7@gmail.com

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