The Poppy charms in Manipur hills
(Livelihood to narco-terror funding)

The large-scale illegal poppy cultivation as a cash crop in the hills of India’s North Eastern state of Manipur owing to its multi-faceted disastrous impact has begun to attract the attention of the state and even the federal government of the country. The massive illegal cultivation of this deadly crop and the illicit lucrative trade in it’s by-product in the region has tremendous impact on the social and economic life of the people. The reasonably high proceeds from poppy cultivation to a large extent have contributed to large-scale migration from rural to town and sharp increase in land (housing plot) price. The ecological system and environmental equilibrium is disturbed with massive deforestation associated with poppy cultivation. It also greatly resulted in society’s moral decay. Poppy cultivators justify themselves citing livelihood issues. It has now gradually assumed a near narco-terror/militancy funding base with the direct or indirect involvement of certain armed groups in the illicit poppy cultivation, opium production and trade. Cultivation of conventional agricultural crops such as paddy and other direct consumable items have slowly been discarded as growing poppy is found to be more rewarding.
Poppy cultivation in the state is not something the people of the land have been doing through ages. It was just a decade back that massive poppy cultivation for commercial purpose was heard of in the state. Initially some areas in Ukhrul district and its adjoining Saikul area of Sadar Hills Kangpokpi district were known to have cultivated poppy. Saikul area came to be known as the hotspot of massive poppy cultivation for commercial intent. Chandel and Churachandpur districts soon figured in the poppy growing map of the state. Koubru hill range in Sadar Hills Kangpokpi district, parts of Tamenglong and Senapati districts too soon found “plots” in the poppy map. Even Bishnupur district in the valley is not safe from poppy cultivation lure. Today, no hill district of the state is free from poppy cultivation putting the state almost at parallel with the famous (infamous) Golden Triangle or the Golden Crescent.
The state government is not a silent spectator to the poppy cultivation either. Police forces are sent to destroy the poppy plants when they are fully grown and ready for harvest. However, the percentage of poppy plants destroyed in such a strategy is insignificant and never serves as deterrence to poppy cultivators. NGOs, civil groups, police, forest and horticulture departments as well as certain armed groups (under a peace pact with the government) have also been doing their bits to create and spread awareness about the multi adverse consequences of poppy cultivation in the land. Health experts and environmentalists have often pointed out the dangers associated with massive poppy plantation. A group of Christian believers in Churachandpur town recently even held fasting prayers to seek divine intervention to end poppy cultivation in the land. The danger of genetic disorders that may be caused to the offspring and future generation of people engaged in poppy cultivation, opium processing and opium consumption (addiction) is a less focused area. Reports indicate that the number of opium addicts among poppy farmers have increased from one out of a fifty initially to at least 5 now. Yet, environmental degradation issues seem to be a much more emphasized aspect of discussion in awareness campaigns. It is not that poppy growers and their financiers are unaware of the ill effects of poppy cultivation or its illegality. The question is, why and how poppy cultivation in the state is continuing with impunity and that poppy field tract is only expanding by the year in spite of reasonable level of awareness about the manifold devastation wrought.
The total area of poppy fields destroyed in a given period actually would not even be one third of the total area of cultivation. The poppy fields in the foothills within easy reach from the valley could bear the brunt of destruction by the government but those located in remote mountain slopes are always safe. Natural factor like rain during harvest can of course doom a season’s output to near zero though the risk in this regard is still considered insignificant.
One of the grounds for justification of poppy cultivation in the state is the suitability of the soil and climatic condition. The truth is that poppy can be grown in most of the habitable parts of the world except the northernmost, up to at least latitude 56°. The next important justification is the livelihood issue. Poppy growers claim that they do so to feed their families and to fund their children’s studies, etc. Scriptural justifications are not missed either. Poppy farmers argue that what they earn through toils and sweat is clean and in line with biblical scripture. An audio record released recently and made to go viral on social networking sites not only justifies earning an income through toils and sweats in poppy cultivation but also went to the extent of challenging anybody trying to stop poppy cultivation.
(The writer is IGP Zone-II, Manipur).

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