Now that the media glare over Malda has faded away, the West Bengal administration has also quietly snuggled back to “the comfort of inaction” against poppy growers and the opium mafia.
After a mob set Kaliachak police station on fire and destroyed documents incriminating the opium mafia on 3 January this year, Malda’s Rs 3200-crore poppy economy burst into limelight.
“Around 3,708 acres of poppy cultivation has been destroyed in Malda since the crackdown started on 15 January. But we had to stop the drive due to lack of funds,” said an NCB officer, requesting anonymity as he is not allowed to officially speak to the media.
The drive, which remains suspended for now, was supposed to resume on 22 February but the state government apparently doesn’t have enough funds to continue the demolition. The Centre, it alleges, is dragging its feet on clearing around Rs 20 lakh making it difficult to continue the destruction of crop.
Meanwhile, as the state and Centre spar over funds, poppy cultivators are making the most of the opportunity.
Opium is grown in around 60 percent area of English Bazar, a constituency held by TMC’s food processing minister Krishnendu Narayan Choudhury. The minister couldn’t be contacted as he was busy with the budget session.
As you turn towards Sona Masjid from Lokochuri More, white poppy flowers dancing in the breeze would greet you (as evident in spycam footage available with Firstpost).
There is a small police post nearby, but they turn a blind eye to the crop growing around Malda’s major tourist attractions such as Baroduari and Firoz Minar, both under the Archaeological Survey of India.
Malda SP Prasun Banerjee refused to comment on the issue amid claims from NCB officials and local activists that the district administration is “hand in glove” with the opium traders.
Last week, police officers were beaten up by poppy growers while they tried to carry out a crop removal drive in Baishnav Nagar and Mozampur areas of Malda district. When the situation turned grim, the BSF was called into action.
Senior lawyer Asit Baran Choudhury, who practices in Malda court, said: “The police is deliberately delaying the crop destruction to allow poppy mafia the time to collect the latex. Once the latex is collected, there is no point spending money from state coffers and help the poppy cultivators ready their fields for the next crop.”
At the time of filing this story, NCB was about to crackdown on the farms near the historical monuments of Baroduari and Firoz Minar.