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Behind Madhya Pradesh move to buy banned poppy husk, the farmer constituency of 2018

Opium is legally cultivated only in Mandsaur, Neemuch and Ratlam, the belt that saw farmers’ unrest over prices of other crops last June leading to the death of six farmers, including five in alleged police firing.

Written by Milind Ghatwai | Bhopal | Published: March 19, 2018 1:29:49 am
Madhya Pradesh opium husk, opium husk, opium husk shops, opium husk ban, opium farming, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Central Bureau of Narcotics, India news Poppy straw (left) after removal of opium and seeds. (Photo: Avriette/Wikipedia)

Sale of poppy husk has been declared illegal by the Central Bureau of Narcotics (CBN) but the Madhya Pradesh government will buy it from opium growers — and destroy it — to ensure that thousands of farmers don’t make it an issue in this election year.

Opium is legally cultivated only in Mandsaur, Neemuch and Ratlam, the belt that saw farmers’ unrest over prices of other crops last June leading to the death of six farmers, including five in alleged police firing. These districts have over 28,400 licensed opium poppy cultivators and 12 Assembly seats, of which the BJP won 11 in 2013.

Poppy husk, or doda chura, is what remains of the poppy capsule after opium is extracted and the seeds (khus khus) are removed. Poppy husk contains mild morphine content. Traders buy khus khus at mandis and raw opium can only to be sold to the government. The trade of poppy husk, while it was legal, allowed farmers to earn extra: the last support price announced by the state government was Rs 125 per kg.

Two years ago, the CBN, which functions under the Ministry of Finance, declared that poppy husk has no medicinal and scientific value and has to be destroyed. The decision did not have much impact then, because the crop had failed. Last year, the CBN ordered destruction of doda chura under official supervision but its implementation remained a matter of dispute between the central and the state machinery, and the confusion allegedly allowed rampant smuggling.

With the current crop ready for harvest, some farmers are still carrying last year’s stock of doda chura in violation of the ban.

Last week, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced in the Assembly that “farmers need not worry; we will buy doda chura from them and burn it. Farmers will be given full price. We will burn it. At no cost will we allow farmers’ fate to be burnt (Kisanose doda chura ham kharidkar jalayenge. Kisanoko puri kimat di jayegi. Sarkar usko jalayegi. Kisan ki kismat ko kisi bhi kimat par jalne nahi denge.”

Farmers’ leader Shriram Patidar, who recently joined the Aam Aadmi Party, said about the government’s decision: “They don’t want to antagonise farmers and are ready to go the extra mile to win them over.” He said there are many villages in bordering Rajasthan where doda chura is mixed in water and served as a welcome drink in social events.

Dinesh Patidar, whose son Abhishek was one of the victims of police firing last year, noted that licensed growers are a major vote bank. The current rate of doda chura in the illegal market is around Rs 1,500 per kg, he said. “The government should stop giving opium licences. Even the legal cultivation has given rise to an illegal market. There are addicts who pay anything for opium or doda chura.”

Before the CBN ban, the state excise department used to regulate the trade. It would auction licences for wholesale and retail. In the last auction, in 2015-15, the excise department earned revenue of Rs 143.20 crore.

The government is yet to announce the price at which it will buy doda chura or specify how exactly it will be destroyed.

BJP MLA from Mandsaur Yashpal Singh Sisodiya said the decision to buy doda chura has removed the prevailing uncertainty and will provide a big relief to farmers. BJP MLA from Neemuch Dilip Singh Parihar said smuggling of doda chura was on the rise. Referring to arrests of some people caught while transporting doda chura in recent months, he said the real culprits never get caught and only the handlers do.

Madhya Pradesh Patidar Samaj Mahendra Patidar president appropriated credit for the government’s move. “Our pressure has forced the government to bend,” he claimed, referring to the last June’s unrest.

Congress MLA from Suvasara (Mandsaur) Hardip Singh Dang said the announcement has come a little late but nevertheless will provide relief to farmers. He said the government should increase the price at which it will buy doda chura from farmers.

BJP MLA from Javad (Neemuch) Omprakash Sakhlecha said the move will help farmers but called for increasing the capacity of the local opium-processing plant to allow more farmers to get licences for cultivation. He said the government meets much of its opium requirement through imports. If imports are stopped and more licences given, he said, thousands will get jobs.

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