September 28, 2010
Nepal could soon earn the unenviable distinction of being a major opium-producing country of the world if the current trend of opium cultivation in the central Tarai continues, government officials acknowledge.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) recently sent a team of experts to inspect the central Tarai where the law and order situation has allowed opium cultivation to flourish.
UNODC´s inspection took place at a time when Nepal´s giant neighbors - India and China - have started to emerge as major global players in terms of opium production and consumption.
Both countries produce opium legally for medicinal use. India is the leading country in legal opium cultivation and the biggest exporter to the US, but it is also witnessing increasing illegal production.
Opium cultivation in Nepal is spreading in the southern plains that either border or are close to parts of India - Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan- where both legal and illegal opium cultivation exists.
Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Hemanta Malla, who specialized in narcotics during his 13-year stint at the Narcotic Control and Law Enforcement Unit (NCLEU), said illegal opium cultivation has spilled over from India into Nepal due to the poor state of law and order here.
“Opium cultivation could increase in Nepal with devastating effect. The country could become a major producer,” he added.
In Bara district alone, opium was cultivated in over 500 bigahas of land last year.
Bara, Parsa and Makawanpur districts combined constitute the largest opium cultivation zone in the country.
The three districts, known earlier for the production of cannabis, have since the past couple of years been cultivating opium as well.
“It´s not that opium cultivation has replaced cannabis. Both are rampant. The reality is, those who cultivate cannabis are also drawn to cultivating opium because the latter is more lucrative,” said DIG Malla.
According to the Home Ministry, opium cultivation is spreading to the eastern Tarai, extending beyond the original farm clusters in Bara, Parsa and Makawanpur. Cultivation is taking place in Saptari, Siraha and Rautahat districts as well. It is even found in Chitwan where law and order is considered to be better.
The Home Ministry, in a bid to combat the galloping opium cultivation in the central and eastern Tarai, has introduced a new strategy of destroying cultivation during the seed sowing stage. “We have instructed the district administrations concerned to implement this strategy,” said Janak Dahal, under-secretary at the Drug Control Section of the Ministry, adding, “In the past, we used to remove grown-up opium plants. But that was not effective and was also labor-intensive.”
Sowing Season Now
Now is the time for sowing opium seeds. Nepali and Indian racketeers are flocking to remote villages in the central and eastern Tarai to cultivate the opium. They even bring with them skilled laborers to sow the seeds and help local peasants. Hectares of land in places like Prastoka, Simroungarh, Amritgunj, Beldari, Sunfuluwa, Bhagawanpur, Paterwa, Karchewa, Uchidiha and Golagaj in Bara district are being ploughed this year for opium.
A kilogram of opium fetches Rs 50,000 at the time of harvesting in Nepal. Up to a kilogram of processed opium can be harvested from one kattha of land. Another reason why this banned crop has become popular among peasants is that even the opium straw brings in up to Rs 1,000 per kilogram.
The administration has been found lukewarm in controlling opium cultivation. Peasants approached by Republica in Bara district said that police let them cultivate the opium in return for financial benefits. Some of the peasants said they give the police about Rs 1,000 per kattha of opium cultivation.
Shiva Prasad Nepal, Chief District Officer (CDO) of Bara, claimed that anybody involved in the cultivation and trafficking of illegal drugs would be prosecuted. He did not elaborate.
Under current law, if any farm has more than 20 plants of cannabis or opium it can be seized by the authorities. But hundreds of bigahas of opium are left untouched.
The Golden Triangle covering parts of Burma, Thailand and Laos has switched to synthetic drugs in view of the low costs and ease in trafficking.
International trafficking rings dealing in opium are settling in India to take advantage of the legal provision there permitting opium production for medicinal purposes. “The dynamics in India is easily reflected in Nepal due to proximity and the open border,” said DIG Malla.
Meanwhile, some experts also hold that with the acceleration of army operations in Afghanistan to curtail the chief financial source of the Taliban, namely opium production, trafficking rackets might be eyeing countries like Nepal where the law and order situation is weak. Afghanistan is the nucleus of the Golden Crescent zone
“Such a possibility cannot be ruled out,” said Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Diwas Udas, who has decade-long experience working with NCLEU.
UNDOC´s inspection team had pointed out the need for improving law and order in the affected zones through political commitment to curbing the escalating cultivation of opium, said Under-Secretary Dahal.