With India yet to adopt the advanced method of extracting opium from poppy seeds, the US has informally told the government that it will not be importing raw opium from India in the current fiscal, a development that is likely to adversely impact the country’s overall production and export of opium.
With opium-producing countries including France, Australia and Hungary adopting the advanced technology of opium extraction — concentrate of poppy straw (CPS) — long back, opium exports from India as such have come down sharply from around 480 metric tonne in 2007-08 to 170 metric tonne 2014-15. The US cut down its import from India from 375.76 metric tonne in 2007-08 to 69.50 metric tonne in the last fiscal, according to the data maintained by the government. It stood at 421.32 metric tonne in 2008-09, 336.43 metric tonne in 2009-10, 392.158 metric tonne in 2010-11, further declining to 339.85 metric tonne in 2013-14.
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India and Turkey are the traditional suppliers of raw opium to the world, but while Turkey moved to CPS in 1974, India is yet to adopt the new technology. “If it will not buy from India, it is likely that the US will source its opium requirement from Turkey,” official sources told The Indian Express. Under the resolution 471 adopted by the UN Economic and Social Council, importing countries are bound to import 80 per cent of their requirement from traditional suppliers like India and Turkey and 20 per cent from other countries such as France, Australia and Spain.
While India had set up the first committee on CPS in 1969, it is yet to see the light of the day. In July 2010, the country had issued tender inviting bids for implementing CPS but the process could not be completed. “The Centre is again trying to invite bids to introduce the CPS and curb diversion of opium,” the sources added. Production of CPS is preferred by countries like the US because, apart from economies of scale, it also limits the opportunities for diversion to the illicit market and involves less residual waste than raw opium, thereby reducing environmental hazards.
Australia, France and Spain were the pioneers in CPS and have been developing new genetic varieties to provide increased alkaloid content for which demand has been increasing in the US.
“Declining demand would mean less cultivation of the crop, to check abuse. However, a reduction in production may lead to a surge in import for meeting the domestic demand for palliative care,” the sources added. Due to the decline in opium export, the number of licensed farmers and the area under cultivation has also come down. From 60,787 licensed farmers and 23,425 hectares in 2009-10, the number reduced to 38,460 farmers and over 5,000 hectares in 2014-15.
However, the decline has not deterred politicians from asking for a hike in number of licensed farmers for poppy cultivation. Politicians from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have been making representations to the finance ministry for a reduction in 2015-16 minimum qualifying yield (MQY), the minimum amount poppy farmers have to give to the government to be eligible for a licence. Last year, due to intense lobbying by members of Parliament of the two states (along with Uttar Pradesh these are the only states where poppy cultivation is allowed), the BJP-ruled government had reduced the MQY from 56 kg to 51 kg. Sudhir Gupta, BJP MP from Mandsour, Madhya Pradesh, said that the demand for MQY reduction is justified given the unseasonal rains and hailstorm earlier during the year.
“We have asked for compensation. The NDA government in 1998 had licensed 1,59,000 farmers. The UPA government was not sympathetic,” Gupta said. Similarly, BJP MPs from Chittorgarh and Jhalawar — CP Joshi and Dushyant Singh — in Rajasthan, have also raised a similar demand with the government.
“The licensing will be done in September and the representations have been coming in. Most came in during March-April when there was unseasonal rain and hailstorm,” the official said.