Maoists dig gold in poppy farm

Bid to make up fall in levy income

ALOMIT

Standing poppy plants

Maoists seem to have acquired a new turf. It is safe, secluded and hassle-free. They can do ‘their business’ to earn easy bucks and proliferate safely from the prying eyes of armed forces in the twin states of Bihar and Jharkhand. The extremists have persuaded or forced unwary farmers to grow poppy plants in secluded hilly and forest areas. And drug mafia gangs are reportedly providing needed logistic supports.

Over four dozen sites have reportedly been selected by Maoists in Rohtas, Kaimur, Aurangabad, Gaya, Jamui and Munger districts in Bihar and Garhwa, Latehar, Palamu, West Singhbhum, Ranchi and other districts in Jharkhand. According to the latest survey by the Advanced Data Processing Research Institute (ADRIN), illicit poppy cultivation during 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11 was done in 14,200 acres, 10,851 acres and 15,598 acres respectively in ten states, including Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, West Bengal, Uttarakhand, J&K, Karnataka and Himachal Pradesh.

PRIZE CATCH: Jawans of para-military forces look amazed at the standing poppy crops. Photo: Sanjay Choudhary

As per information given to the Economic Intelligence Council, actual illicit cultivation of poppy would be six times more than what has been predicted so far. It may be noted here that opium, morphine, heroin, brown sugar and other drugs are manufactured from poppy seeds, plants and roots. These banned drugs would fetch astronomical amounts in illegal world drug markets. The Kaimur Plateau regions in Bihar and UP districts have been safe zones for poppy cultivations for decades. The Ramgarh belt in Bihar’s Kaimur district has emerged as an important trade centre for drug-peddlers. The drug business has also social fallouts. At least 60 per cent of youths in the area have fell prey to drug addiction, so much so that marriage has become a problem for them. The latest population survey has also revealed that the number of singles in Kaimur and Rohtas districts is rising at an alarming pace.

The shocking facts about poppy cultivation are opening up in the wake of armed operations by police and para-military forces against the extremist groups. But, what has so far been revealed is just the tip of an iceberg. Intelligence sources claimed that the Maoists have turned to poppy farming as their income from ‘levy collections’ have dwindled sharply. And a major part of the money collected through poppy farming is used for buying legal-illegal arms and ammunition by them, the sources said.

PITCH QUEERED: Central para-military jawans and villagers engaged in destroying standing poppy plants in a secluded place in Kaimur hills in Rohtas district in Bihar. Photo: Sanjay Choudhary

Poppy plantation is thriving in Maoist dominated areas as the growers get ten to 20 times more money than what they earn from wheat, paddy and other traditional crops. Rough estimates say that about 80 to 90 kg of raw material (produce) is obtained from the poppy crop grown in one acre of land. And, one kg of final produce fetches about Rs 1.5 crore in the international market. Police sources identified another reason for the Maoists turning to poppy cultivation in both the states of Bihar and Jharkhand. They claimed, “Maoists have received major setback after killing or arrest of important leaders and hardcore cadres, so they are focusing on poppy cultivation for revenue generation and recruitment”.

Meanwhile, in less than a month, CRPF personnel have destroyed many illegal poppy cultivation sites in the hinterlands of three Maoist-hit districts of Jharkhand. CRPF sources said that the sites were located in West Singbhum, Latehar and Seraikela-Kharsawan. “On February 26, we destroyed a two-acre opium plot near village Talsada on the way to Gudri near Manoharpur. We destroyed another 11-acre opium field near village Telengura”. Both are surrounded by thick vegetation, providing a natural cover to the farming, a CRPF official said. In the last one month, the CRPF had destroyed poppy cultivation in two places in Seraikela-Kharsawan and Latehar districts. According to Patna based assistant director of Narcotics Control Board, Jharkhand and Bihar, eight to ten districts of Jharkhand are badly affected by illegal poppy cultivation. They include Chatra, Latehar, Palamu, Garhwa, Ranchi, Bokaro, Dhanbad, Hazaribagh, and the Singhbhum region.

MADE FOR EACH OTHER: Maoists and drug mafia groups have joined hands to prompt villagers in Bihar and Jharkhand to grow poppy crops for them. Photo: Sanjay Choudhary

Intelligence reports said that water bodies, built under the Manrega schemes are being used for poppy cultivation in the Palamu region. Sources said the cultivators of poppy look for highlands and water bodies, coming up under the Manrega schemes for irrigating poppy field. Rivers with perennial flow also come handy for the growers. Diesel and electric pumps are used to lift water for irrigation purposes. Sources said the state police HQ, reacting to Intelligence Bureau, inputs had in 2008 alerted Bihar SPs to the cultivation of opium by Maoists on the Indo-Nepal as well as Bihar-Jharkhand borders.

The Rohtas police in Bihar, on the other hand, detected and destroyed standing opium crops on a ten-acre plot in Hasadi, a Naxal-hit village. Hasadi in Nauhatta PS is very close to Jharkhand border, across the River Sone. The villagers told the police that opium farming had been going on there for long. It was after a gap of 18 years that the Rohtas police could enter the village recently. According to Rohtas SP Manu Maharaaj, police also arrested a Maoist from Taradih village of the hills and recovered three can bombs meant for ambushing police vehicles. Armed police spotted the opium crops during a combing operation.

The SP claimed that the villagers took to poppy cultivation on the pressure of the Maoists, who used to provide Rs 100,000 each to the villagers for the upkeep of poppy plantation on three decimal of land. Maoists provided seeds to the growers free of cost for poppy cultivation in the area, police said.

Another major operation against poppy cultivation was conducted by a joint police team of the central para-military force and the district police in Gaya’s Barachatti area. Authoritative source said that poppy cultivation was detected at Jaygir, Kewali, Somiya, Salaiya, Bilaspur, Masaudha and Jalhi villages. According to Sub-divisional police officer (SDPO), standing poppy crops in about 20 acres of land had been destroyed in recent days. A total of 84 persons have been made accused in separate FIRs. The police has also destroyed poppy plantations at a number places in Jamui areas also.

Meantime, a team of the Narcotics Control Board (NCB) visited Rohtas and discussed at length the strategy to check poppy plantation in Rohtas-Gaya region. “Hasri, considered to be a den of the Maoists, is inaccessible for the police. It is close to UP border. The village is situated on about 1500 square feet above the sea level”, the Rohtas SP said and added “the special drive against poppy cultivation will continue”.

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