A Dangerous Cash Crop

For the poverty-stricken peoples of the districts of Nadia and Murshidabad in India’s West Bengal, illicit money-spinning crops of marijuana and opium poppies are seen as a much-needed financial lifeline. But this is no mere local problem, with terrorist organisations rather than local narcotics barons being seen as pulling the strings behind the scenes.

Analysts and intelligence experts say Bangladesh is the latest breeding ground for terror groups such as Al-Qaeda, and narcotics farming along the Indo-Bangla border is the reason.

There, poppy or marijuana strips grow discreetly inside small low-sucrose

sugarcane plantations. Growers allocate a hidden portion of the plantations – and paddy plots in Nadia – and the rogue crops appear a lucrative “way out” for the poor cultivators.

Still in the early stages, it is feared these rural belts of Nadia and Murshidabad are being turned into pockets of influence for heroin-dealing terrorists, according to federal intelligence agency sources.

It may appear odd to students of political science and sociology, but there are those that claim the quiet promotion of the cultivation of these crops must receive at least implicit consent from India's largest Leftist formation, the Communist Party of India, which has governed this state uninterrupted for the last three decades.

Acreages of these “exotic wild grasses” have grown steadily over the last fifteen years in the rural blocks of Hanskhali, Karimpur, Nakashipara, Krishnaganj and Chapra of Nadia. However they were almost routed in the village council polls a few months ago by the combination of the Indian National Congress, India's largest and oldest political entity

and its split-away regional opposition party Trinamool Congress (grassroots Congress).

In Murshidabad, where Muslims account for 56 per cent of a population

stricken with endemic poverty and malnutrition, intelligence reports cite poppy cultivation at Chandipur, Charpakia, Tiktipara and Laskarpur villages between the Jangipur and Lalgola rural blocks. Given the abject conditions, it is hardly surprising the people could be lured by the temptation of the illicit cash crop. However, local leaders of two major political parties, INC and CPI(M), have turned a blind eye, with some even accusing influential political leaders of being on the drug mafia’s payroll.

“Opium poppy seeds, grown very insignificantly, were used exclusively for medication or medicinal purposes until the 1980s and there was no cause for concern, but now we have no option other than to discourage the cultivation of opium or ganja,” said a senior official at the secretariat of the chief medical officer of health in Nadia.

Last year, the state and federal criminal intelligence agencies, functioning under the Narcotic Control Bureau (NCB) seized about 5,000 kilograms of marijuana in the two districts, according to official data, valued at US$48 million on the international market. The haul of opium and heroin by the NCB in Murshidabad was estimated at 7.6 kg and

3.2 kg respectively, roughly valued at US$1.2 billion.

Given the lucrative rewards, it’s hardly surprising the narcotics mafia has made deep inroads inside the state police network, and tip-offs prior to NCB raids are common. K Shankar, chief of the NCB's eastern India headquarters, said: “We sit down with district police superintendents the moment we get any information about opium or ganja

cultivation and immediately chalk out plans for raids. By hook or by crook, we shall prevent the farming and trade of narcotics. If our people are found working as informers for the mafia, we are determined to punish them.”

Senior figures in the federal Intelligence network are growing increasingly worried that this local problem is deeply linked with various terrorist outfits, most linked to Al-Qaeda or the Taliban. “Our concern is deeper as the phenomenal growth of narco-farming and trade is taking place in West Bengal, under the Left Front (Communist Party) rule,” said an officer of federal intelligence who wished to remain anonymous.

A new feature of the narco-mafia and their micro-empire is the hierarchical structure of drug overlords. One of the top figures, Tarasankar Giri, is Hindu, not Muslim. Giri’s racket was smashed last year when two intelligence officers commissioned by the NCB seized 1.5 kg of heroin.