The Tale of North Indian Opium Cultivators
Without the licence to cultivate opium, the farmers would struggle to make ends meet. Since their land holdings are too small to raise cash crops, opium cultivation supplements their meagre incomes
Opium cultivation in India is a cash crop that is cultivated legally. In the words of Department of Revenue, ‘India is one of the few nations that legally grow opium and the only country which is allowed to produce opium gum’.
The opium cultivators follow a disciplined farming practice. Most of the traditional opium farmers know how to ensure a balance between nature and humanitarian practices. Opium is the source of ‘Morphine’, world’s best analgesic. The government strictly regulates opium cultivation in India. Though few nation’s do manage to term it like, ‘world's largest producer of licit opium for the pharmaceutical trade, but an undetermined quantity of opium is diverted to illicit international drug markets; transit point for illicit narcotics produced in neighbouring countries and throughout Southwest Asia’, says a report on India by central intelligence agency of United States on its fact book feature.
Any cultivator applying for the licence of opium cultivation must not have a criminal record relating to narcotics act. A cultivator should not have tendered for inferior opium (as per classification by Government opium and alkaloid works).
The Sun rises over the poppy fields, drenching the green-gold pods with its nourishing rays mostly in late May or mid of June. It is just the perfect time for the poppies to bloom. Farming is a family business. From the bettor banned patriarch to the youngest child, they work the field, plant by plant, making tiny incisions in the length of each fat bulb. Sticky grey sap excretes out. This is the essence of opium, a drug these North Indian villagers cultivate under the direct supervision of the government.
Early next morning, after a prayer to the deity in the field, the thickened sap is gently scraped off from each bulb and collected in big iron bowls. Over the following days, the process is repeated until the bulb yields all of its narcotic resin. The work is slow and meticulous. It takes two days to collect a single kilogram of raw opium.
Once the harvest is over, the villagers thank the gods for a bountiful crop. In addition to opium, the farmers grow enough grain and vegetables to feed the family and earn a little extra income at the market. The dried pods, drained of their precious sap, still contain poppy seeds, a favourite cooking ingredient that fetches a little extra income at the bazaar.
On the appointed days, officials of the Central Narcotics Bureau set up a collection point at the village community places like schools, Panchayat buildings etc. Under strict supervision, the villagers cue up, each with a sample of his harvest balanced on his head. Over the next few days, officials examine the opium, testing its moisture content, checking it for adulterating substances like sugar and other plant matter.
The grower risks his licence if his opium is of poor quality. Once graded the pallid substance is packed into 30 kilogram bags for shipping to a processing plant.
To retain his license to grow opium for another year, the farmer must fill his quota of 4.5 kilograms. For one kilogram, the government pays him somewhere around Rs 870 (approximately Thirteen US dollars) - a fraction of the drug's value in the black market. Silence reigns. No haggling here. The government pays a fixed price and changes it according to international requirement, sanctions and restrictions in mind (as the same produce is used to fund most of the terror outfits in neighbouring Indian nations, the only difference is illegal production and trade)
Without the licence to cultivate opium, the farmers would struggle to make ends meet. Since their land holdings are too small to raise cash crops, opium cultivation supplements their meagre incomes.
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