Increasing poppy cultivation in Kashmir leaves hospitals battling surge of drug dependence cases; locals seek prompt action from authorities

A dense crop of poppy over a large area of land near the Chandgam high school in south Kashmir's Pulwama has left teachers at the school worried. They fear that the crops, which lie only a few yards away from the school, could draw teenage students towards drug abuse.

In the past fortnight, authorities have destroyed poppy over hundreds of acres of land in Kashmir, but there are still vast areas covered with the banned crop. A systematic effort by the state’s excise department to eradicate the crop began on 13 May, and in the ongoing harvesting season, authorities have destroyed poppy over around 1,427 kanals in southern Kashmir, 520 kanals in northern Kashmir and 780 kanals in central Kashmir.

But large parts of land have remained untouched. Javed Ahmad, a teacher at the Chandgam high school, said that authorities need to be tough to control the poppy cultivation.

 Increasing poppy cultivation in Kashmir leaves hospitals battling surge of drug dependence cases; locals seek prompt action from authorities

A poppy field in Pulwama. Image: Nisar-ul-Haq

“The government should seize the land on which the crop is grown. They have been slow in their efforts to curb the cultivation. Officials have begun to cut the crop now, when it has been harvested at many places. The crop should have been destroyed months back,” he said.

“The sowing of seeds shouldn’t be allowed in the first place,” added, another teacher, Tahir Hussain.

Syed Mohammad Iqbal, another teacher, said that in his village of Nownagri in Pulwama, poppy is cultivated over large tracts of land due to the lack of any punitive action from the authorities.

Excise Taxation Officer (ETO), Mohammad Altaf Rather, however, said that the department has launched a drive to destroy the poppy crop across Kashmir. “We are using tractors to dig the fields in which the crop has been grown and destroyed it in several areas. In Shopian, we destroyed poppy crops sown over 500 kanals of continuous land and also removed it from another 150 kanals in Chadoora,” he said.

Local residents said that farmers sell dried poppy to drug dealers in the neighbouring state of Punjab, who travel to Kashmir to buy it from them. Sixty-year-old Abdul Majeed of Bobugam in Pulwama, who shepherds livestock for a living, said, “The cultivation of poppy has increased in the area. It could turn our youth to drugs.”

The medical superintendent of the district hospital of Pulwama, Dr Abdul Rashid Para, said that the authorities are looking at starting a drug de-addiction centre at the hospital, as “substance abuse has become common among youth.” A report of the health and medical education department has revealed that “the state has seen a steep rise in the burden of physical, mental and substance-use disorders over the past two decades.”

Para said that addiction can be fought better if all cases are reported at the hospitals. But this does not happen, he said, “due to the stigma associated with substance abuse.”

At the community centre of the Shri Maharaja Hari Singh (SMHS) hospital, 535 patients with drug dependence were admitted in the year 2016-2017, and in 2017-18, the figure increased to 710. “The involvement of elders from the community can help control the drug menace. The cultivation of the crop has been going on openly,” said Para. He added, “Factors that contribute to the rise of drug dependence are the increasing school dropout rate and the mounting stress levels due to the ongoing conflict.”

Rather said that farmers sell dried opium poweder through truck drivers to dealers from outside the state. “The contact points are roadside eateries,” he said.

Local residents said that poppy is grown once a year, and the seeds are sown towards the end of autumn. The crop is harvested towards the end of May. Across southern Kashmir, poppy is grown on plots near the roadside as well as on patches of land that lie amid almond and apple orchards. Local residents said that farmers have begun growing it as it fetches more money, and fields do not need to be regularly irrigated.

This year, the officials admitted, the drive to destroy the crop in Kashmir was delayed in the wake of clashes between security forces and youth before and during the parliamentary polls.

Updated Date: Jun 04, 2019 17:10:28 IST