By: Our Correspondent

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.