Is Mandsaur just another farmer’s agitation gone wild? Are the farmers genuinely distressed financially and demanding a loan waiver and revisal of crop prices or is there something more than meets the eye
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]S[/dropcap]uddenly the heat is on India’s opium capital, Mandsaur, buses are burning, tempers are flaring and the city is on the boil. Mainstream media speaks of the plight of these farmers as ‘poor’ and ‘agitated,’ Rahul Gandhi and his party, join the band wagon and try to hijack the agitation, but to a more skeptical mind, these incidents seem to speak of a bigger agenda by vested forces.
Behind the aromatic field of bobbing poppies, lies something more menacing, a very thriving hotbed of opium smugglers.
Two-thirds of the India’s opium is produced in Mandsaur under the supervision of the International Narcotics Control Board for legitimate medical needs. It mainly meets the increased demand from pharmaceutical firms, as opium is a crucial ingredient in the manufacture of life-saving drugs. As the demand goes up, so have the number of poppy fields.
Behind the aromatic field of bobbing poppies, lies something more menacing, a very thriving hotbed of opium smugglers. When the poppies ripen in these fields, there are many encroachers, right from addicted parrots, snakes and scorpions to the most dangerous one – man. Armed gangs from different regions instigated by drug lords strike for the chocolate coloured resin, which is the hottest property in Mandsaur.
The nature of the opium production itself is a laborious one, farmers use the traditional method of gum extraction – where the poppy fruit is ‘lanced’ allowing the resin to ooze out – which takes about three to four weeks.
Poppy cultivation is legally allowed in areas like Mandsaur. The Central Bureau of Narcotics (CBN) issues licenses to the farmers to cultivate opium poppy. Each field of every cultivator is individually measured by officers of the CBN to ensure that they do not exceed the licensed area. The cultivators are required to tender their entire opium produced to the CBN and they are paid a price at the rates decided by the Government. The CBN sets up weighment centers during the harvest season and the cultivators bring their opium to these centers and tender the opium to the CBN.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he farmers are supposed to give 50kg of opium per hectare to the government failing which their licenses are revoked. The average yield per hectare could reach as high as 65 kg and, in some cases, even 80 kg.
With smugglers offering a much better bargain, and farmers under-reporting produce, the smuggled drugs soon make their way to Punjab via truck drivers and other means…
If each hectare yields a surplus of 15 kg over what the government is collecting, the profits would be easily anything up to 300crores or more.
It sets the perfect ground for farmers to siphon a major portion of their produce into the illegal market after giving the required amount to the government. In fact some opium cultivators indulge in illicit manufacturing of heroin and brown sugar. The heroin/brown sugar is sold to local representatives of a drug cartel, who in turn arrange the transportation of drugs in caches by road. With smugglers offering a much better bargain, and farmers under-reporting produce, the smuggled drugs soon make their way to Punjab via truck drivers and other means, into the international circuit, thus further strengthening the deep-rooted nexus between the farmers and smugglers.
This illegal opium trade and the resulting black money, has changed Mandsaur considerably and made it prosperous. The real estate prices have been hiked by these cash-rich farmers, opium licences are seen as a symbol of prestige and drug addiction has become rampant in every village around this area.
While political parties in the past have vowed to fight the illicit drug menace, there was little that was done as opium production was perfectly aligned with Mandsaur’s life and economy for over a century.
But with the change in government, and a Prime Minister, who is adamant about rooting out black money and corruption from the country, things have changed. Digital payments have replaced cash for procuring produce from farmers in the markets and the government has also banned the regulated sale of poppy husk. Thus making it difficult for the farmers to make money through illegal means.
[dropcap color=”#008040″ boxed=”yes” boxed_radius=”8px” class=”” id=””]T[/dropcap]he farmers in turn have come out with a number of excuses to state these initiatives will not work. They profess they are faced with various challenges like; running out of cash due to digital payment mode, and that the rate of farm produce has also gone up considerably due to shortage of electricity. They blame it on the black marketing of manure, which has increased the cost of production of agriculture produce, and the use of diesel-run water pumps for irrigation due to lack of power, as the electricity distribution company in the region have been found to snap power supply to farmers if they fail to pay the monthly bills instantly. But these seem are mere futile defenses, they have realized that making easy and plenty of money has ceased.
…are the Mandsaur riots all about about loan waivers and crop re-pricing, or to make the government rethink their new policies with regards to opium procurement?
These initiatives to check the rampant corruption in the opium industry and enforce transparency, would affect the lifestyles of the rich farmers who depend on the illegal drug trade for their comforts.
So then, are the Mandsaur riots all about about loan waivers and crop re-pricing, or to make the government rethink their new policies with regards to opium procurement? Are those protesting really ‘poor’ farmers or ‘cash-strapped’ ones who are threatened by the new norms which will curtail their lavish lifestyles. And can the nexus be extended from rich opium producers, drug lords to certain politicians too?
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