Rid Kashmir from the menace of 'Charas'

Srinagar, Dec 22 (ANI): The tranquility of Kashmir has been broken more than a few times in the past few months but it seems that the only problem to be sorted is not one that is most apparent. A major chunk of land in areas in Pulwama, Shopian, Quazigund, Tral and Pahalgam areas of South Kashmir, which is used for both agriculture and horticulture, is under the cultivation of another kind of cultivation-narcotic crops.

Poppy seeds or 'Charas or 'Fukki'is a hardy crop and can be grown easily. It does not require much inputs and locals say that one just needs to put seeds into the soil and go back home and forget about. It will grow automatically. What is more, it fetches good returns and finds lucrative markets not only locally but outside the state to major cities in India.

The question is how does this happen under the nose of the government authorities? The cultivation of opium poppy crop and other kinds of psychotropic drugs is an offence under Section 18 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS Act) of 1985 punishable up to ten years of rigorous imprisonment and a fine upto Rs. One Lakh.

The sale and purchase of such drugs is also an offence as prescribed under Section 15 of the Act. This Act passed by the Central Government would naturally need to be played out by different states according to need on the ground. In fact Section 10 of the Act empowers state governments to permit and regulate possession and inter-State movement of opium, poppy straw, and the manufacture of medicinal opium and the cultivation of cannabis (charas).

In Kashmir then what is happening is clearly an illegal cultivation and illegal trade.Yet both flourishing each feeding the other supported by the silent, unseen hands, obviously powerful ones. The situation here then clearly points to a nexus in place, which not only overlooks the cultivation of these crops but facilitates their movement across and beyond the state borders.

Arjimand Hussain, Project Manager, Action Aid International feels that the economic returns from mustard seeds and other crops are low. To overcome this loss, farmers turn to a more lucrative crop. Opium, cannabis (charas) and such crops which are cultivated illegally serve as a good source of economy as the produce fetches good returns based on a thriving trade, needless to say illegal.

The narcotic plantation also is cultivated surreptitiously Crops are cultivated in a rather tricky manner. Mustard and other food crops are cultivated along the periphery of the field which camouflages tiers after tiers of cannabis and other addictive crops planted in the centre.

In Kashmir, it is the State Police, which is in charge of the administration of the NDPS Act, as also certain other agencies like the State Excise and Drugs Control Department. Understandably it is a maze of operations but where it comes into public contact are at check posts on national highways, which ostensibly are the routes for the movement of the drug. It is alleged that some officials from the Excise and Police departments are in connivance with these traders allowing the easy passage of vehicles carting these substances on the Srinagar-Jammu national highway.

Locals say "The smugglers grease the palms of officials who then turn a blind eye to the smuggling of narcotic substances in fruit-laden trucks or other vehicles".

Sources also say that even though sometimes Excise officials claim to have recovered a certain quantity of 'charas' or 'fukki' but this is a mere eyewash to cover up for major quantities that are infact allowed to pass through. There is obviously money to be made in this trade; they say which is why influential political and bureaucratic figures ensure that their favoured officials are posted at the toll post.

There are some very practical, even logistical difficulties in seizing of a particular cache of narcotic substance enroute on the highways. Given the heavy movement of traffic, particularly trucks at all times of the day and night, unless backed by some fine intelligence, it would become impossible to intercept the vehicle.

An official of Excise citing an example said: "After acting on a tip off we recently recovered nine boxes of 'fukki' that were concealed in a truck carrying 640 apple boxes meant to be transported outside the state. We began checking the truck at around 2 am, but finally succeed in recovering the illegal substance around 7 pm."

According to Commissioner Excise, G A Peer "Our job is only to collect toll tax for vehicles passing through the toll post." He, however, added that they act based on a tip from their reliable sources on possible smuggling of the substances on a particular route and time.

Given the complex scenario and the years of a comfortable situation between the different players involved, what can be done to stop this heinous trade? Or vigilance to be stepped up at posts or even weaning away local farmers from its cultivation. Can traders at the local level be intercepted?

Perhaps a non-confrontational way which could actually prove effective would be to go back to the basics, explore and find why farmers are opting for this 'dangerous' cultivation and find solutions Let them become aware of the potential hazards and also potential alternatives to this crop. With some effort and imaginative techniques, the land used for growing narcotics can be used for plantation of diverse trees which would not only generate income for the growers but boost economy of the state.

The land used for 'Charas' can yield aromatic crops, medicinal plants and for growing poplar trees, says the Charkha Development Communication Network. It could be used for flower plantation like lavender and Bulgarian roses. A move which would rid the farmlands of Kashmir from this menace and cut off the supplies that sets in motion a heinous route for narcotics would be welcome by all those who yearn for a pristine environment and life. By Zeenat Zeeshan Fazil (ANI)

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