Poppy destruction: The new norm ?

C Thangminlal Doungel *

Poppy plantation destroyed at Chandel (Machi Sita Jn, Tonghlang, Hongjang and T/Huimol)  :: 17 Feb 2015
Poppy plantation destroyed at Chandel (Machi Sita Jn, Tonghlang, Hongjang and T/Huimol) in Feb 2015 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

In recent past, the discourse that has raised a lot of eyebrows, besides the negative report of the declining Forest Cover in Northeast, is undoubtedly the massive crusade against Poppy plantation. In Northeast, illegal poppy plantation has a wide geographical reach, where, the sloppy hilly region provides a fertile breeding ground for opium poppy to thrive.

And the Tribal's of the state are closely knitted with this practice over the years, and today it has become an intrinsic source of livelihood for the untouched sections of the society. However, the State indifference to eliminate the menace of this significant plant has ushered in a new debate over its 'indispensable utility' for the Tribal poor.

Legal poppy: India is one among the few countries that legalize poppy cultivation because of its manifold benefits. Poppy has been used since ancient times as an analgesic and narcotic medicinal and recreational drug as it contains several indispensable alkaloids like morphine and codeine. Its seeds are also a source of minerals like calcium, iron and zinc. Thus to meet all these demands India has legalized the poppy cultivation in selected pockets of the country, strictly through approved licensing policy amongst the poor farmers.

In pursuance of rule 8 of the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Rules, 1985, the state of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are approved to cultivate poppy. The above act empowers the Central Government to permit and regulate cultivation of opium poppy for medical and scientific purpose. The latest licensing approval was for the Crop Year commencing on the 1st day of October, 2016 and ending on 30th of September, 2017. And the extension of the same for the crop year 2018-19 has not been notified yet. However, plantation of the same for any purpose elsewhere invites stringent penalty.

Manipur scenario: Despite the blanket ban in a strictest manner, poppy cultivation has not ceased to be the poor men's first choice as a means to achieve their ends because of its market value. Apparently the increase in family expenditure demands a greater income, and for the rural poor, poppy cultivation becomes their closest ally to meet the pressing need of the family. In addition, Manipur soil profile provides a suitable bed for poppy, and it becomes extremely hard to resist the practice when the end precedes the means. And unavoidable, when it becomes a tool to fight poverty and hunger itself (goal of SDGs).

It is interesting to note, that behind this practice there is a grain of truth that remains undeciphered. Manipur population is compartmentalized into different categories in terms of income source, which is not uniformly ascribed between the Valley and the Hill population. Comparatively there is assured financial security in the valley while there is a huge gap to be filled in the hilly regions. Astoundingly close to 70 percent of the tribal population residing in the hill districts resort to unskilled labor and farming for sustenance.

According to experts and research outcome, it is found that, initial cultivators of poppy were hardly aware of the acute implications. Despite having to undergo the stigma attached with poppy cultivators as it is abhorred and considered a taboo, many poor families are left to join the poppy bandwagon because they have absolutely no choice.

In addition, having witness the enormous profit with much less demanding labor and cost compared to paddy cultivation (as a tenant) and others, many landless poor think it is their opportune moment, although they do with a lot of hesitation. Often what added woes to the already existing hardships is the limited permissible work arenas that has failed to meet the basic human development index, including the battle against hunger itself.

In this scenario there is a crying need to take up different chores, even the illegal despite the palpable penalty. And when the government schemes that is solely meant for the welfare of the poor masses becomes alien to them and fails to percolate to the grass root level, the choice not to perpetrate becomes very narrow.

The half-baked anxiety: It is heartening to see the committed effort from all angles in the battle against the menace of drug abuse, that is plaguing our country in general and our state in particular. The ongoing crackdown on illegal poppy plantation over hundreds of acres is a positive start. The crusade led by the Narcotics and Affairs of Border (NAB), involving the district administration, the police, including the Deputy Collectors themselves is truly phenomenal.

While they have earned plausible accolades from the government in power, the state barely realizes how exposed the lacunas of governance have become. While pointing fingers on the poppy cultivators the government has failed to see the speck in its own eyes that has caused all maladies in the state. A close look reveals how flawed the system and how entrenched corruption has become, where people in authority are an ardent contributors.

The strange language of governance has confused the common people and is left to live in jeopardy. And it is indeed sad, how the innocent subjects are turning against themselves, while the government is dictating terms. It is pertinent that the governed understand who the prime accused or perpetrator is; failing which, will pave a way for perpetual ills in the society.

When hundreds of government 'welfare schemes' both central and state have hibernated forever and are untraceable, and when transparency has become so opaque, the government is now a parasite we must collectively detest. Therefore bridging this mismatch is of absolute importance if we genuinely want to reap the fruit of good governance.

Merely showing apathy towards poppy cultivators without any accountability for their welfare is a grave mistake we could possibly make. The educated mass should equally express discontentment in all the lacunas of governance, which to me has cause more irreparable loss to us than mere poppy.

Bottom line: The state government should fully digest the concept of a "welfare state" enshrine in the constitution Directive Principles of State Policy. It is the state responsibility to protect and promote economic and social well-being of its citizens, where the principles of equality of opportunity and equitable distribution of wealth are enforced. And ensuring the minimal provisions of a good life to the poor citizens is the least task it should commit itself to, and should be accountable for any slight deviation.

The state should first leapfrog out of its statues quo to deliver true 'good governance'. And poverty being a common enemy, the fight against hunger and poverty should not be isolated approach. If the state machinery is truly committed towards the menace of drug abuse, it is also not at all wrong to ensure the poor men's due by providing an alternative to meet their ends. Perhaps, it is the state obligation to first provide prior to depriving the poor men's life line.

And so, our collective approach towards true development and growth in Manipur should be multiplex. Taking good care of the environment (forest, water, air etc.), health, education, economy and most importantly corruption will only pave way for a novel progress. Therefore, manhandling power as a yardstick to discipline the poor subjects without any step to amend one's own obstinate stand is undemocratic and unacceptable.

[Views are personal]

* C Thangminlal Doungel wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was webcasted on March 03 , 2018.

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