At least three Maoist groups have taken to opium cultivation and trading in parts of Bihar and Jharkhand. They have been taking advances running into several crores of rupees from middlemen and making farmers cultivate opium in the red zone. Large tracts of forestland have been cleared in parts of north Jharkhand and adjoining areas of Bihar for this illegal cultivation. The police has been conducting regular raids in Khunti, Hazaribagh, Chhatra, Palamau, Aurangabad and Gaya to destroy hundreds of acres of opium crop, but its efforts are not enough to counter the menace.
Inspector General Special Branch S.N. Pradhan of Jharkhand police, which has stepped up operations in the last 18 months, said, "Over 30 people including middlemen and farmers have been arrested and sent to jail in this connection. We are trying to promote horticulture in these pockets to wean away the farmers from opium cultivation."
According to Pradhan, "The central leadership of the Maoists seems to have fallen apart and activities in the periphery have gone out of control. Often the zonal commanders and the area commanders act like local satraps. We have various inputs that indicate that these local Maoist leaders are now taking money directly from the middlemen and getting opium cultivated."
Cultivating opium started around three to four years ago. A highly placed IB official said, "It started in Bihar and gradually spread to Jharkhand. Middlemen from Benaras, Barabanki, Gorakhpur and Allahabad frequented the Maoist dominated pockets and convinced farmers to grow opium. They gave them the seed money and the wherewithal for the cultivation. There were several takers as huge profits were involved." Intelligence agencies have come up with the startling revelation that "makeshift processing units have been set up deep inside the jungles along the border of Bihar and Jharkhand. Middlemen get the product processed into heroin."
Makeshift processing units have been set up deep inside the jungles along the border of Bihar and Jharkhand.
The Narcotics Control Bureau has indicated that the price of Indian heroin in the international market ranges between Rs 1-2 cr a kg, depending on the quality. Since the government has introduced many checks and balances in the regulated cultivation of opium at places like Barabanki, the spillover has got minimised. This has made middlemen enter into deals with the Maoists.
The absence of government and the sizeable presence of Maoists in these areas offered the farmers the desired protection from law. Since most roads passing through Maoist dominated pockets are heavily mined, police patrolling rarely takes place.
A forest official from Jharkhand's Hazaribagh confirmed on the condition of anonymity that opium was being grown in the forest areas bordering Bihar but expressed his helplessness in curbing the menace. "We do not have any means to control this." The Jharkhand police has started using satellite images to conduct their operations and destroy the crop. Jharkhand police says that it is using four helicopters to identify such patches and regular surveys are being conducted.
Nishant Kumar Tiwari, Nalanda's superintendent of police, who was earlier posted as SP Aurangabad and spearheaded several operations against opium cultivation, said, "Satellite images have come to be of great help in identifying large tracts of such opium cultivation in the remote inaccessible pockets." "Given the international ramifications of this lucrative business a more coordinated inter-state approach is required," he said. But the reality on the ground is that despite all the efforts put in by the police the lucrative business of growing opium is on the increase. Even after satellite imaging, the police finds it hard to venture into these Maoist dominated areas to destroy the crop.
According to D.L. Kashyap, a former DCP with the narcotics cell of the Delhi police, several hilly tracts in Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh have been vulnerable to opium cultivation in the past. The lack of personnel and the remoteness of the areas make the task of eradicating opium difficult for law enforcing agencies. "The solution is for the government to identify the vulnerable pockets and carry out a sustained campaign to induce the people to grow crops that yield a good profit," he added.