Poppy cultivation goes up as splinter groups enter business
Jharkhand’s tryst with opium poppy seems to have reached a tipping point this year – police say various Left Wing Extremist (LWE) splinter groups have taken over the business from the Maoists, but the fear of a Maoist ambush is preventing the police from actively pursuing and destroying the cultivation of the crop.
Traditionally, the Maoists have considered opium poppy cultivation a major source of revenue and influence in the state – the latter was bought by paying money upfront to cultivating villagers. However, as the influence of CPI-Maoist declines in the state – they accounted for 42 per cent of Left Wing Extremist-related violence in 2014 – the two biggest splinter groups seems to have entered the business in a big way.
Anecdotal evidence from villages and interviews with police officers suggest that poppy cultivation has shot up this year. “They have diverted streams and don’t let villagers graze their cattle nearby. Last year, only small patches were being cultivated; now it is in massive swathes,” said a resident of Chatra district’s Lawalong area on the condition of anonymity. The claims are impossible to check independently as cultivating villagers are extremely hostile to outsiders.
Chatra is also a stronghold of the Tritiya Sammelan Prastuti Committee (TSPC). Villagers and police officers say the TSPC has begun overseeing cultivation in the Lawalong area, dealing directly with contractors from Uttar Pradesh.
Backed by satellite imagery from the Narcotics Control Bureau, police say at least 700 acres across eight of the state’s 24 districts are under cultivation. “Chatra is suitable for the cultivation of poppy because of its proximity to the Grand Trunk Road. This helps the transport of the product to various town in Uttar Pradesh for processing,” said S.N. Pradhan, Additional Director General-Police, CID.
That shows in the data too: Chatra has seen six of the 13 anti-poppy raids conducted by the state police since the turn of the year, when the plants – being cultivated since October – have begun to flower. In all, the police have destroyed 276 acres of poppy; 100 of it in a single raid in Dumka. There have been no arrests yet.
Dumka SP Anoop Mathew, who led that operation in the CPI-Maoist controlled area of Shikaripara, said that the patch had been smaller last year: “Locals told me that only about 10 acres were cultivated last year; this year, they felt confident enough to grow so much more.” In 2014, the police had destroyed 81 acres across 13 raids; seven of them in Chatra.
The TSPC has also taken over the areas previously controlled by the Maoists in Latehar district. The TSPC is widely known to be working closely with the state police and the central security apparatus when it comes to anti-Maoist operations. There has been no raids yet in Khunti, where the People’s Liberation Front of India began poppy cultivation in the Rania area about three years back.
Police admit that the rate of destruction is slow and that the actual cultivation could be up to 10 times the destroyed acreage. “I would say it is a choice between risk and operational priority,” said Pradhan, pointing out that each poppy destruction effort has to be classified as a Special Operation because of the risks involved. “There are times when the forces have to think hard about which point of the field to enter from, because there could be an ambush waiting for them,” he said.
Therefore, despite their diminishing presence in the business, the Maoists continue to dominate the poppy discourse: other LWE groups do not attack the police, after all. “We are now considering a model where forces that go on routine anti-Maoist ops also destroy poppy along the way,” said Pradhan.
Source:: Indian Express