Agriculture

West Bengal to Bid for Permission to Cultivate Poppy

The move came after a resident of Burdwan told Mamata Banerjee that he had been unable to buy poppy seeds after the price had soared to more than Rs 1,000 per kg.

New Delhi: West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday asked the chief secretary Malay De to obtain the Centre’s permission to cultivate poppy in the state, according to a report in the Telegraph.

The report stated that during an administrative review, a resident of Burdwan told the chief minister that he had been unable to buy poppy seeds for the past few weeks as the price had soared to more than Rs 1,000 per kg.

Banerjee then directed the chief secretary to secure the Central government’s sanction for growing poppy. “You should find out a system… you should convince the Centre that poppy seed is a staple diet in Bengal. We should be allowed to produce poppy seeds for consumption,” Banerjee said.

According to the report in the Telegraph, the state agriculture department had recently sought permission from the Union government for the same. “We had told the Centre that we would produce poppy under its guidance and the state would take only seeds for consumption. But no permission was granted,” a source told the Telegraph.

Currently, only specific areas in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are permitted to cultivate poppy under the strict surveillance of the Narcotics Control Bureau.

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act authorises the Central government to regulate the cultivation of opium poppy for medical and scientific purposes. Cultivators sell their yield to the Centre which then processes it at government opium and alkaloid factories and supplies the extracts to pharmaceutical companies to produce medicines, including cough-syrup and pain-killers.

Also read: Book Excerpt: The Cultural History of Bengal’s Agrarian Economy

“The entire stock of poppy seeds, required for food consumption in the country, is imported. So, the price of the item fluctuates frequently and the domestic market has hardly any control over it,” an official said.

In 2018, the district administration in Bengal had opted to use drones to crack down on poppy cultivation and narcotics trade. Excise department officials had pointed out that the five districts of Bankura, Malda, Murshidabad, Nadia and Birbhum in the state were notorious for cultivating poppy, which is illegal in Bengal.

According to a report in the Hindustan Times in 2017, West Bengal’s excise department had planned to use intensive satellite imagery to curb poppy cultivation and narcotics trade along the border.

Poppy seeds are widely used to produce opium, an ingredient of morphine – used to produce heroin and other drugs. Several farmers have switched to illegal poppy cultivation as it yields higher profits.

Poppy seed paste is a key ingredient of alu-posto, a Bengali delicacy which was conceived of under the British rule due to the presence of extensive tracts of poppy fields.

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