Himachal Pradesh is a witness to the illegal cultivation of the narcotic yielding plants, drug trafficking and consumption too, but lacks a comprehensive strategy to check the problem. DAILYPOST Bureau Chief ARCHANA PHULL
You trek up to the tough and historic Malana village in Kullu valley and have a look at the lifestyle of the folks. They are grossly engaged with narcotic drug yielding plant, cannabis for livelihood. You can make out at once that the remote village is neck deep into the illegal drug trade.
As you dare walk further into the scary forest land, you may see lush cannabis plants (of high quality) growing uninterruptedly on a large scale or even come across some foreigners living in isolation in the make-shift huts. You get an idea of the level of the drug trafficking nexus operative in the area.
So much that it has given a bad name to the peaceful hill state of Himachal Pradesh internationally. And Kullu valley over the years has come to be known for narcotic tourism among foreigners. There have been several cases of foreigners going missing in Kullu forests, either due to drug over-doze or related reasons in the past.
But it is not about the Kullu valley alone.
The interior hill pockets of Mandi, Chamba, Shimla and Sirmour districts in Himachal Pradesh are into the same racket, with a large chunk of forest and government land there being used for organised illegal cultivation of cannabis by people to run their economy by making fast buck. Opium is usually grown on private land and there are hills with wild growth of cannabis and opium as well.
While there is no survey on the extent of the cultivation of cannabis and opium illegally in Himachal Pradesh, figures shared by intelligence sources in official meetings say that around 1,000 hectares of land is under opium cultivation in the state and much much more (thousands of hectares) under cannabis. The production of opium in HP is put at around 20-30 tonnes annually and cannabis over hundred metric tonnes in a year. The narcotic drugs like ‘charas, ganja, hashish and heroine’ are produced in these pockets with the locals, who are generally supported by high technology, either brought by the international buyers or the locals only.
The domestic market of the narcotic drugs produced in Himachal extends from Punjab, Haryana, Delhi to central India, while the international market is in Europe and Canada largely. And it goes on, right under the nose of theauthorities.
In Himachal Pradesh, while the cultivation and production of the narcotic drugs has been an issue, the consumption too is increasing. Otherwise having the low crime rate, the hill state saw a total of 644 cases under Narcotics Drugand Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act registered in 2014, with a rate of 9.2 cases per lakh population, making it the state with the fourth highest rate in the country, according to an official data.
In 2012, HP had the third highest rate of 7.5 with a total of 513 cases. And the police have been unable to track many of them. Official sources say the trend of substance abuse in the hill state is also increasing now with school children becoming the innocent victims.
Little action on ground
The state government has been airing concern in different meetings, with Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh showing utmost sensitivity on the issue lately, particularly with regard to children falling prey to drug addiction. Governor of Himachal, Acharya Devvrat, who said, he was alarmed over the situation when he moved in the field in HP, too told the officials to be on their toes to check the problem in totality.
‘’ We are cautiously doing the enforcement part and are focusing on awareness too. The police teams move in the tough areas to destroy illegal cannabis and opium as a drive every year,” said Director General of Police Sanjay Kumar.
The Police Department in Himachal has been doing its bit, whether to destroy cannabis or opium growing illegally in fields or check trafficking and consumption, but in piece-meal approach. “The state has a special cell in the department to handle narcotics, but it fails for lack of facility and strategy at the state level,” shared a police high up.
Going back from 2002-2007, there was a clear surge in effort on the ground to check illegal cultivation of cannabis and opium and drug trafficking with O P Sharma, a Central Excise Officer from Himachal serving on deputation as Superintendent with Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) in Chandigarh.
he community policing apart, there were lots of joint operations by the NCB and the HP Police to destroy the narcotic yielding cannabis and opium in different pockets of the state in five years then. However, it all came to square one, after the officer went back to the parent department.
“I am still in touch with the state police and share the intelligence input out of my own sources. But then, the action has to be taken by the state. I am surprised that the authorities are often in a denial mode on the extent of the problem and that is why the enforcement is poor,” former NCB superintendent O P Sharma shared with ‘Daily Post.’
Sharma pointed out that the State level Apex Coordination Committee on drugs is almost defunct for many years and there does not seem to be a politicalwill to take action on ground. He called for the formation of a special state level drug authority to check the problem in totality, which he says, has acquired the shape of a ‘socio-economic and political’ issue. “We need to handle it through a special drive, in toto. The enforcement has to be strict and in the meantime, the livelihood concerns have to be dealt with. The Forest Department has to wake up because a large cultivation of opium and cannabis is being taken up illegally on the forest land,” he says.
More so, since the issue of drugs has crossed the boundaries of the state and Punjab (as he handled the issue in Punjab based at Chandigarh) is being falling victim to the drug trafficking from different surrounding areas, including Himachal, Pakistan, J&K and even Rajasthan, we need to findinter-state solutions. Comprehensive efforts are lacking on this front, however.
If one traces the history, the politicians in Himachal, particularly those in Kullu valley, which is affected the most, have not shown much will to eradicate the evil, which starts with illegal cultivation of cannabis and opium in isolated pockets. Rather, they have been doing much double speak on the problem, citing the economic concerns of the poor people, for the latter comprise a sizeable vote bank.
And at one point of time, a decade and half ago, the then government even sent a proposal to the Centre to regularise the cultivation of opium and cannabis in Himachal, which was turned down sternly. “This is like encouraging people to go ahead with it. Those involved in the illegal business would not leave it, unless the politicians show the will to eradicate it strictly. The Police also remains under lot of pressure not to act against the culprits,” said a senior citizen in Kullu, L R Sharma.
‘Alternative development a wayout!’
After long time, though Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh did commit at a recent conference in Kullu that enforcement apart, the alternative development of the poor people into illegal drug business should be taken up on priority through a coordinated effort.
Singh has picked it right, as the state needs to work out a strong alternative model of livelihood for people to drift them away from the illegal drug business (where they make easy buck by getting international buyers at doorstep).
To mention here, one such effort by the Malana Vikalp, a cooperative society formed in infamous Malana under the guidance of former NCB officer O P Sharma has already failed for weak support system. “When I created awareness among illiterate Malana folks with my team some years ago, 225
out of 352 households in the village showed interest to switch to cash crops like pea by forming a cooperative society. But they were back to their traditional drug business in two years time for lack of support by the government department in production and marketing,” says Sharma.
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