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Can There be a Fruitful Alternative to the Expanding Menace of Poppy Cultivation in Manipur

Although the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (ND&PS) Act, 1985 lists poppy as a contraband substance known for its psychotropic effects, poppy plants are being extensively cultivated in the interior hilly areas of Manipur. Poppy plantation in Manipur is illegal and punishable.

There have been many reports of destroying hundreds of acres of poppy plantations every year by slashing of poppy plants by the law enforcement agencies particularly Narcotics and Affairs of Border (NAB), and Manipur Police including even Central paramilitary forces.

However, there has been no significant report of arrests of poppy farmers and award of punishment thereof in Manipur on the pretext that cultivators or owners of poppy plantations cannot be identified or established yet.

Interestingly, Manipur Police has appealed to 16 village chiefs of Kangpokpi district to furnish alternative means of livelihood instead of illegal poppy and cannabis (ganja) plantation to the concerned district superintendent of police.

Reports say the appeal has been made by the Director General of Police, LM Khaute to the village chiefs during an extensive meeting held at the police headquarters (PHQ) in Imphal on September 15. The meeting was organised in an effort to prevent illegal poppy and cannabis (ganja) cultivation in the district as part of the Manipur Government’s ‘War on Drugs’ campaign initiated by Nongthombam Biren in 2017 after he became the Chief Minister of Manipur. A series of such meetings are being held for different districts.

Further, an appeal was made to the village chiefs to neither cultivate poppy nor encourage/cooperate on poppy plantation. The village chiefs were told to cooperate with the state police in the war on drugs with the aim to make a drug-free state.

Notably, reports say the chiefs of 16 villages of Kangpokpi district, who attended the meeting, shared their grievances and strongly requested to provide alternative means of livelihood and development works in the villages. Penal provisions under NDPS Act for cultivation or involvement in the illegal plantation of poppy or cannabis (ganja) were also explained to the village chiefs.

Now, in various rural hilly areas of Manipur, the poppy plantation can be found growing barely a few kilometres from residential areas and even within sight of our naked eye from the highways.

However, unfortunately no poppy cultivator or owner of the poppy plantation has been booked under the NDPS Act.

Here it is pertinent to ask a few questions – Why cannot the State’s law enforcement agencies arrest the poppy cultivators or owners of the poppy plantation in their vicinity? Why cannot the dedicated NAB keep a close watch to trace the cultivators or owners or labours of the identified poppy plantations?

There have been reports of poppy cultivation from the mid-1980s. Illegal cultivation of poppy plants for opium has been in existence in Manipur for a few decades. But widespread cultivation of poppy plants in the interiors of hilly regions and production of opium have increased manifold in the last few years.

Many experts and public leaders say that the main reason for mass-scale poppy cultivation is due to the fact that it is highly profitable and can be harvested within a short time without much hard work.

Therefore, exploration for alternative plantations or livelihood or alternative development to the poppy planters have been underway for many years. Even in February 2020 a one-day international workshop on ‘Alternative Plants for Opium-Poppy’ was held at Manipur University where many experts participated. But many alternatives to poppy plantation have not been translated into action yet.

All experts and public leaders agree that a crop having lower value and which requires more labour and time cannot replace poppy cultivation as the people who grow poppy plants have the tendency to get money and comfort within a short time.

We should know that a farmer cannot be simply insisted on to grow certain crops or plants without having the infrastructures including transportation and marketing facilities to convince them their crops will be converted to good cash easily.

Reports say, it is evident that one pari (hectare) of land can produce 5–7 Kg of opium. The price of 1 Kg of opium in the local market usually ranges from Rs. 50,000–70,000. During the off-season, the price of opium can go as high as Rs. 1,50,000 per Kg. Compared to other crops it is a significant return for an area of one acre. To the marginalised rural people, nothing is more appealing than poppy cultivation. Unlike rice, cereals, and vegetables, the returns on poppy plantation are significantly higher and attractive.

The consistently cited reason for poppy plantation is that the income generated from traditional rice and vegetable cultivation is insufficient to feed even an average family throughout the year. Coupled with the absence of alternative sources of livelihood, these farmers resort to poppy cultivation to meet their needs and expenses, since there are irregularities on the part of the government in providing bare minimum employment and livelihood.  In the last three-four years, poppy plantation has become a substitute to the traditional practices.

It may be mentioned that during January and February of 2018, personnel from the NAB, along with the help of other security agencies, destroyed poppy plants that were illegally cultivated across more than 600 acres of land in seven districts, namely Ukhrul, Kamjong, Churachandpur, Senapati, Kangpokpi, Tengnoupal, and Chandel. This joint team managed to destroy approximately 6000 kg of opium, with a net worth of over Rs. 45 crore.

The law enforcement agencies of Manipur destroyed over 5,000 acres of poppy plantations in the past two years and seized more than 1000 Kg of poppy and poppy derivatives like heroin and brown sugar.

Although the law enforcement agencies destroyed poppy plantations, poppy cultivators continue to cash in on opium production.

Therefore, many experts again say the forcible eradication of poppy cultivation is insignificant unless and until the government provides these farmers with sustainable alternative livelihoods. Alternative development should not be limited to only destroying poppy fields, but should also include immediate alternative arrangements for poppy cultivators.

But the questions that crop up are – If the cultivators or owners of poppy plantations cannot be identified or established, for whom the alternatives to poppy plantation are being explored? Even if the immediate alternate arrangements for poppy cultivators are made, who are or will be the cultivators or owners of the poppy plantations when the law enforcement agencies cannot identify or establish and arrest them? Will the village chiefs disclose the names of the cultivators or owners of the poppy plantations so that the proposed alternative schemes reach them? If the cultivators and owners of the poppy plantations are disclosed by the village chiefs, will not the law enforcement agencies arrest them to book under NDPS Act, 1985? If they are not arrested and booked under NDPS Act, will not many fake cultivators and owners of poppy plantations come forward to get the benefits of the proposed alternatives? Without addressing the complexities of the poppy plantations and without establishing the real cultivators and owners, will just the alternatives stop poppy plantations? If the plantations turn out to be owned by established armed gangs and drug lords, would giving alternatives to the labours stop poppy plantations? Will the alternatives to poppy plantations be fruitful?

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