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Chittorgarh's opium farmers in distress after govt cancels licences

twitter-logo PTI        Last Updated: April 26, 2019  | 16:33 IST

By Bunty Tyagi Chittorgarh (Raj), Apr 26 (PTI) Ramlal Jat’s hopes for a prosperous future crashed last year when he lost his licence to cultivate opium – because he produced 20 grams less morphine than specified under a new Central government policy. Famed for the quality of its opium, a cash rich crop used in the pharma industry and tightly controlled by the government, Chhittorgarh’s farmers should be laughing all the way to the bank. But discontent echoes far and wide in this election season with thousands of farmers like 68-year-old Ramlal who find the ground slipping away because their licences have been revoked. About 15,000 farmers in this Rajasthan district have lost their licences in the last three years, according to Ram Narayan, national president of the Bhartiya Afeem Kisan Vikas Samiti. Opium is cultivated on around 4,000 hectares of land on Chittorgarh, also famous for its many heritage tourist sites. Along with Pratapgarh in the state, Chhittorgarh produces 60 per cent of the total opium in India. The fear that their licence will be revoked hangs heavy, said many opium farmers, expressing the hope that someone listens to their woes, at least in election time. Opium farmers have the potential to decide the fate of any political party in the elections in Chittorgarh, which votes in phase four on April 29. Narayan said the BJP promised to restore the cancelled licences of farmers if it came to power in the run-up to the 2014 elections. But the Central government has done nothing to address their issues, he said. According to Narayan, under the new minimum qualifying yield (MQY), a licence can only be issued or renewed if the content of morphine, a derivative of opium and the main ingredient in opium and narcotic drugs, is 5.9 kg per hectare. But morphine yield, he explained, is not in the hands of the farmers. "We demand that the central government withdraws the condition of 5.9 kg morphine per hectare. Also, it should revoke the cancelled licences of all farmers," Narayan said. Farmers in the region said they can make much more money if they sell their produce in the international market but stringent regulations don’t permit them to do so. "The government is doing injustice to us. If we fail to produce MQY of 5.9 kg of morphine per hectare, our licence is cancelled," said Sukhpal Jat, a villager in Sambhupura. He said opium farmers will support the party that is sympathetic to their demands. To cultivate opium in one hectare, a farmer has to shell out nearly Rs 1 lakh, including on labourers, cover of plastic nets over field and tight security vigil. In return, farmers do not get an appropriate amount from the government, he said. "The government takes opium from licensed farmers at prices ranging from Rs 1,500 to Rs 2,500 per kg depending on quality. But in the international market, it can fetch a farmer Rs 60,000 to Rs 2,50,000 per kilogram,” Sukhram said. The Central Bureau of Narcotics (CBN) gives legal permission to only three states - Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh - to cultivate opium. Several villages in Chittorgarh district such as Kesapura, Sambhupura, Amrana and Palasia cultivate mainly opium. A farmer of Palasia, who did not wish to be named, said some farmers have to borrow as much as Rs 1 lakh to purchase opium to fulfill the government’s 5.9 kg morphine criterion. The season for cultivation of opium crops is between December and April. Jagan Jat, another farmer, said when the time comes to sell opium to CBN, farmers have to be extra vigilant to keep the crop safe from being destroyed. "The farmer and his entire family are scared. They know the licence will be cancelled if the specified amount of morphine is not produced," he said. The farmers are hoping that there will be some redressal after the elections. The BJP has fielded its incumbent MP Chandra Prakash Joshi against the Congress’ Gopal Singh Idwa against Joshi in the constituency.. In 2014, Joshi defeated Congress veteran Girija Vyas by a margin of 316,857. PTI BUN MIN MIN

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