The twin challenges of poppy plantation & drug trafficking

Large scale poppy cultivation in the hill areas of Manipur is no longer a secret but it has become a serious socio-economic and political challenge. The Government, apparently perturbed by the ever exacerbating drug menace, launched the War on Drugs and there have been media reports at regular intervals of law enforcing agencies destroying poppy plants. Sometime back, there was a report which said that most of the poppy plants destroyed by police and other law enforcing agencies had already borne fruits and the fruits had been harvested. If the particular report is true, then the whole exercise of destroying poppy plants is nothing but hogwash. In spite of the much hyped War on Drugs, the Government and its agencies have not been able to control or reduce poppy cultivation in the hill areas of the State. There was another report which remarked, “Strangely, police hack down or destroy poppy plantations just a day or two after poppy flowers/fruits have been harvested and police never destroy poppy plants before the flowers/ fruits are harvested. Police never hack down poppy plants when they are not mature enough...” If this report is true, one would definitely like to ask whether the poppy farmers, chiefs of villages where poppy plantation is done, investors and law enforcing agencies have a tacit understanding. When poppy cultivation is widespread in the hill areas of the State, illicit drug trafficking through the State is only a natural corollary. Though illicit drug trafficking is primarily driven by human greed, many are also compelled to join the drug business because of sheer poverty. In another word, illicit drug trafficking is driven by both greed and basic needs. International watch dogs on drugs trade affirm that Manipur is the opium producer for the infamous Golden Triangle. Some of the important factors cited include fertile soil, vast economic disparity and availability of cheap labour in the remote hilly areas of Manipur.
Lure of money is the main force behind drug trade. The value of heroin per kilogram in the local market is put in the range of Rs 10 lakh whereas the same quantity could fetch up to Rs 1 crore in the international market. At the same time, drug analysts say poppy cultivators in Manipur fetch around Rs 30,000 from about 400 square meters of cultivation from which one kilogram of the poppy fluids (opium) could be extracted from the seeds. Government agencies as well as NGOs, apart from hacking down large poppy plants, have been spreading awareness on the harmful effects of opium and heroin.  While these attempts deserve appreciation, a larger issue seems to be evading the Government, for example, is the Government in a position to provide alternatives to the labourers and cultivators alike, such as, making the lands permissible to cereal and vegetable plantation (infrastructure support and availability of seeds, etc). Successful fight against opium or for that matter poppy cultivation can be achieved, if the alternatives are provided first and bring the remote areas under the fold of development. In another word, tackling poppy cultivation and illicit drug trafficking demands a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach. The menace of drug abuse is often all pervasive and disastrous. Apart from draining the State’s economy, it can corrupt an entire generation and destroy the very soul and spirit of a nation. If we are not mistaken, the Government talked about launching a pilot project in January last year in association with Horticulture and Fishery Departments which can effectively put an end to clearance of forest areas on Koubru and other hill ranges of the State for poppy cultivation. As per the Government’s plan, the project is basically about creating alternative sources of incomes for villagers who are engaged in poppy cultivation and it would be tailored in such a manner that it is emulated by one village after another. But it appears that the pilot has been either abandoned or put in a deep freezer.