Srinagar: An aggressive campaign to destroy poppy cultivation in Kashmir has revealed that a large number of farmers have shifted to the illegal farming to make a quick buck.
This year poppy crop cultivated over 65 hectares has been destroyed against 4 hectares of the crop destroyed last year.
Excise officials told Kashmir Reader that the department had targeted to destroy at least 8 hectares of poppy crop, double the last year’s target, but they ended up destroying crop grown over 65 hectares.
Deputy Excise Commissioner (Executive) Srinagar Khurshid Ahmad Shah told Kashmir Reader that the anti-poppy campaign was primarily focused on areas in south Kashmir and central district Budgam, designated as the main pockets where poppy and opium crops are grown.
“We expect to clear the crop off 1500 kanals (75 hectares) by the end of the season,” he said.
Shah said the manifold increase in poppy cultivation was an upsetting trend.
“It seems that villagers have switched over to the banned cultivation to make easy money,” he said.
The villagers extract the poppy husk from the dried plants, which is in great demand in neighbouring Punjab state. The husk powder known as phukki is popular among drug addicts.
The villagers, however, defend the cultivation of poppy, locally known as khashkhash, on the pretext that the poppy seeds are used in bakery and traditional cuisine. However, the excise officials contradict them.
“The scale on which the crop exists on the ground belies the villagers’ claims. They are cultivating it for other purposes,” Shah said.
According to Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act cultivation of opium without license is illegal. Production, manufacture, possession, sale, purchase, transport, and inter-state import or export is also prohibited.
The excise department receives information on poppy cultivation on the tip-off provided by the staff or the revenue officials in the area. The satellite pictures provided by the Government of India’s Narcotics Control Bureau have also been of immense help to eradicate the illegal crop.
The excise department has alerted all deputy commissioners to keep a vigil on illegal cultivation.
“This year with the support from deputy commissioner Pulwama we were able to clear large swatches of poppy crop from Tahab, Malangpora and Rajpora areas,” he said.
The officials say that the input from the field staff is more authentic that the satellite imagery. “The imagery at times is unreliable as on ground we have found other crop cultivated instead of banned crops like poppy or cannabis,” Shah said.
He said the villagers flee and do not counter the staff when poppy crop is being destroyed. “This is the main reasons that no arrests have been made,” he said.
The excise department has warned villagers to desist from cultivating poppy.
“We are also supporting initiatives in collaboration with agriculture and horticulture departments to plant fruits and vegetables instead of poppy,” Shah said.