SHOPIAN: Wild growth together with careful cultivation has resulted in the cannabis plant occupying large areas in south Kashmir, especially along rivers and water bodies. A large number of people are addicted to cannabis and many are involved in its processing and smuggling, while the government and religious organisations watch as mute spectators.
From time to time, dozens of persons carrying marijuana or trading in it have been nabbed by police, but at the same time their arrests indicate that scores of people in this region are growing this banned crop and supplying it to different parts of Kashmir and outside.
South Kashmir areas like the banks of river Jhelum and many villages situated near the Jhelum, such as Melhura, Bandenoo, Bijbehara, Wachi and many others, are infested with the cannabis weed. At a few places people have voluntarily destroyed the weed and used the ground for agriculture and horticulture, but many people have taken up its cultivation or conservation, as profits from it are much better.
“Apart from education about this menace, the government can distribute high-yielding seeds of potato and apple among people to help in ending this menace,” said Parvaiz Ahmad, a resident of Melhura village, which was once infamous for growing this banned crop. According to villagers, now only 10 percent of the people here are involved in cannabis cultivation.
A resident of Bijbehara said that last year, several “drives” to destroy cannabis plants were conducted by the government, but this year no such drives were conducted. A horticulture expert told Kashmir Reader that this year’s rains have led to a bumper crop of cannabis in Bijbehara.
“One of the major reasons for its wide spread is that cannabis grows on less fertile land, the land which has good quantity of sand,” he said, adding that trade in this crop fetches higher gains and many people instead of educating their children have trained them also in its cultivation and trade.
The intervention of the government is almost negligible, as cannabis plants still stand in majority of the areas which are infamous for its trade and cultivation. However, the role of locals is also questionable as no effort has been made by them to destroy the plants.
“Religious bodies can play a better role in eradicating this menace, by counselling people at times of congregational prayers and other religious gatherings,” said Tanveer Ahmad Lone, a resident of Bijbehara.
Javid Ahmad, a doctor based in Anantnag district, said that cannabis being available at the doorstep makes some youth take to its consumption. Others who face monetary problems are lured to its trade, he said. “The people who get addicted also get involved in illegal activities, which have degraded our young people and society,” the doctor rued.
A resident of a nearby area, wishing anonymity, said that many people gave up education once they got into trade and cultivation of cannabis. “The government never looked into our problems sincerely. They destroyed the crop at some places but never wiped it out from the entire area,” he said, adding that the government should bring the land under cultivation of fruits and vegetables.
Some of the areas infamous for trade and cultivation of cannabis are Takyibal, Tulkhan, Melhura, Wachi, Lakdipora, and Sangam.
In parts of Shopian and Kulgam districts, people generally don’t cultivate cannabis but the wild growth of the plants has led many people to addiction.
Excise Tax officer in south Kashmir, Saleem Akbar, told Kashmir Reader that this year, his department destroyed cannabis on 125 kanals of land and the “drive” is still underway. “The drive was started from August 1, because after this (rainy) season, the crop becomes fully mature,” he said, adding that if the plants are destroyed before July, then new growth occurs in the same soil.
“We are expecting to clear all the areas where cannabis is being cultivated or where it has grown on its own. For counselling and awareness purposes, we distributed 4,000 posters throughout south Kashmir. We also have involved religious bodies and educational institutions for their support,” Akbar said.
He maintained that those who do not cultivate this crop but maintain and manage its growth also come under the category of “growers”.