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Last Updated: Friday, 25 March, 2005, 08:40 GMT
Crackdown on India's poppy crop
By Habib Beary
BBC News, Bangalore

Opium crop raid in India
Authorities have destroyed opium worth more than $150m
Police in southern India have been cracking down on a flourishing trade in opium poppies.

Authorities have destroyed opium crops worth more than $150m in a number of raids across the state of Karnataka in the past two months.

Officials say the illegal cultivation of poppies is widespread.

They say farmers have taken to growing the crop because it is lucrative and easy to grow, with a harvesting time of 90 days.

Now a spate of police raids have scared them.

"We are living in fear. We don't know when the police will come again," says Mariapppa, a farmer in Kolar, 100km (62 miles) from Bangalore.

Stringent laws

The scene is similar in Mandya on the busy highway to the city of Mysore, a major tourist destination.

"My husband is innocent. We did not know this crop was illegal. I have not slept properly after police raided our farm," says 46-year-old Savithramma.

Raid on Indian poppy farm
Farmers say they are unaware that growing opium is illegal

Her husband, A Krishnappa, is on the run.

Mr Krishnappa grew poppies on a two-acre farm at Algudu village close to the road.

Police have charged Mr Krishnappa under the stringent Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.

If found guilty, he could be jailed for a minimum of 10 years with a fine of $2,200.

"The person who gave us the seeds said it was for medicinal plants. We believed him and grew the crop. Now look at our plight," says Savithramma.

Most farmers growing poppies say they are innocent.

But senior police official, R Hitendra, says: "There is no ambiguity about the law. Opium cultivation is illegal.

"We are investigating who the end user is. The involvement of drug traffickers in the racket is also being looked into."

Although poppy seeds are used in making spices, there are fears that drug traffickers could be buying to make heroin.

Deals with agents

The cultivation of opium in Karnataka and parts of southern India has caught the attention of the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board.

Opium crop in Karnataka
Opium is a lucrative crop for farmers in southern India

In some of the fields, police found poppies being grown camouflaged between maize, cereal and sugarcane crops.

Agriculture Minister Srinivas Gowda says farmers are being exploited by drug dealers.

"Most of the farmers did not know that poppy cultivation is prohibited," he says.

The government, which does not want to be seen as being anti-farmer, has announced an amnesty until 31 March for those farmers who voluntarily surrender the crop.

Concerned over the unrest the raids have generated among farmers, a senior leader of the socialist Janata Dal Secular party, HD Kumaraswamy, has called for a halt to the crackdown.

"The farmers are na´ve and have been growing poppies as any other crop," he says.




SEE ALSO:
India and Pakistan mull drugs war
15 Jun 04 |  South Asia
Indian farmer suicides 'continue'
22 Nov 04 |  South Asia
Suicide spree on India's farms
03 Jun 04 |  South Asia


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