ANANTNAG: Three years ago, when the district administration of Anantnag launched a major crackdown against smugglers and cannabis cultivators of Bijbehara, senior citizens of the area had heaved a sigh of relief. The illicit economy of narcotics had residents worried about the future of their youngsters, and there was a sense of getting rid of the worry since most of the cultivators shifted to legal farming. But, since last year, the cultivation of the banned crop has made a return, and the residents are again in a state of shock.
Tall green plants of bangh, almost at the ripening stage, could be seen on thousands of kanals of fertile land in the area. The villages where the crop has been grown include Hayar, Krandigam, Gantalipora, Taqibal, Guri, Veer, Naboog, Semthan and Dupatyar – with the latter having had the dubious distinction of being the ‘biggest charas producing village in north India’ a few years ago.
And with the harvesting season of the banned crop just a few weeks away, locals fear their children may again fall prey to the narcotic mafia. “It was in 2011 that the then-deputy commissioner Anantnag Kifayat Rizvi and an excise officer Ghulam Mohammad Bhat had launched a major drive against cannabis cultivation. Besides destroying every single plant of the crop they had booked dozens of notorious smugglers of the area under the narcotics act. After that crackdown, nobody in the area dared to grow a single narcotic plant in any of the villages for the next couple of years,” a delegation of citizens from the area told Kashmir Reader.
They said that since last year the menace of cannabis cultivation has returned to the area due to the non-seriousness of the authorities. “You can see the cannabis grown all around in the area. Now the harvesting season is nearing, and we are worried about school and college-going students whom the smugglers lure into extracting the charas from the cannabis,” said a resident, Gulzar Ahmad. “During the harvesting season, the smugglers offer Rs 800-1,200 per day (depending on their ‘hard work’) to these young boys and lure them into the menace. Once these youngsters get involved in the extraction, they then easily get addicted to narcotics. There are scores of people in the area who have become physically and mentally disabled due to this menace. And we don’t want to lose another generation to narcotics,” Ahmad said.
Another resident, Mukhtar Ahmad, said the excise officials simply make a show of curbing the illicit trade, that they come along with tractors and destroy wild cannabis plants on small patches of land only for publicity. The residents say the authorities just are not serious about eradicating the menace. “They came last week and destroyed the crop on some small patches and got an item about it published in local dailies the next day. We have not seen them since then. If they are serious about curbing narcotic cultivation and the trade they should have launched a crackdown as Kifayat Rizvi had done,” Mukhtar said. “The officials know the people behind the cannabis cultivation and trade in the area. So, why don’t they take action and book them?” asked Mukhtar.
Excise and taxation officer Altaf Ahmad Rather admitted that cannabis cultivation is being carried out on large tracts of land in the area, but claims the department is going in for a major drive against such cultivation. “We had started a destruction drive in some villages of the area but later we had to call back our squad to Shopian district for the drive. Our teams have destroyed the crop in Bandipora and Shopian districts on at least two thousand kanals of land so far, and we are going in for a major drive in Bijbehara area after 15th August,” he said.
Asked why they don’t book the known, notorious smugglers of the area, Rather blamed revenue officials for non-cooperation. “It is the job of the revenue authorities to provide us the complete details about the landunder cannabis cultivation and the land-owners. We go to destroy the crops, but we never know who the owner of the land is. Revenue officials are always hesitant to cooperate with us,” Rather said.