The Centre has relaxed conditions for granting licence to opium farmers, a move that will benefit around 800 opium growers. This comes just before the announcement of Assembly elections and is expected to influence the mood of cultivators in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh — two of the three states where cultivation is allowed — which go to polls in the next two months.
The decision comes in wake of Congress MPs — Girija Vyas, minister for housing and urban poverty alleviation, and Meenakshi Natarajan from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh respectively — taking up the matter first with minister of state for revenue JD Seelam, and later with finance minister P Chidambaram, urging them to dilute the eligibility conditions for getting licence.
According to the licensing policy of opium 2013-14, all those cultivators who had tendered an average yield of opium of not less than 57 kg/hectare in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and 52 kg/hectare in Uttar Pradesh, in 2012-13, would be given the licence for growing the crop this year. These are the only three states permitted by the government to cultivate opium.
However, this is in stark contrast to the condition laid down by the Centre in its last year’s opium policy. The finance ministry, which frames the policy, had then said that only if cultivators tendered a minimum qualifying yield (MQY) of 58 kg/hectare in MP and Rajasthan and 52 kg/hectare in Uttar Pradesh would they be eligible for a licence to cultivate opium poppy plants in 2013-14.
“Cultivator may note that this forewarning will be enforced from the crop year 2013-14,” the finance ministry had said in the policy, highlighting and underlining the forewarning for the first time in a decade. The forewarning clause in the policy essentially states the conditions for the next year and has been a part of all the policies.
Vyas and Natrajan had, however, sought bringing down the MQY to 50 kg/hectare. When contacted, Vyas said, “Meenakshi and I had met the minister. Our request is pending with him (Chidambaram). He has gone out of the country. Once he is back, we will take it up with him”.
As a result of the new policy, 774 more farmers will get licence for cultivating opium poppy, benefiting 374 cultivators in Mandsaur, MP, Natarajan’s constituency. The rest of the farmers are mostly from Rajasthan’s Chittorgarh (Vyas’ constituency), according to the government data. In 2011-12, there were 48,863 licensed farmers. In 2012-13, the number fell to 46,821 as some farmers became ineligible due to non-compliance.
Though the beneficiaries are not high in number, it is the mood of opium growers that decides the fate of the candidates in the Vyas’s constituency. The finance ministry did not accept the proposal to bring down the MQY to 50 kg/hectare on the grounds that it will lead to increased diversion. According to narcotics bureau officials, an estimated 10 per cent is diverted into the black market by growers.
The relaxation raises several questions. The MQY has been reduced even though the average yield kg per hectare has been above 60 kg/hectare in the past eight years barring one. It was 65.060 kg/hectare during the crop year 2012-13, according to the data with the Central Bureau of Narcotics.
“Since there is not much demand, the relaxation is purely a political gimmick,” an official said.