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Opium dens tracked in 11 districts of India, including Sahibganj and Pakur

The home department has lodged a satellite war on opium dens. Armed with guide maps provided by remote sensing satellites, it is planning a crackdown on illegal poppy fields across 11 districts, including Sahebganj and Pakur.


Confidential letters, detailing the action plan, has already been rushed to police chiefs of all the concerned districts. It is learnt that the letters shed light on fringe areas — demarcated by satellite pictures — where illegal cultivation of poppy is rampant.


An intelligence officer, not willing to be named, said the districts of Sahebganj and Pakur hosted acres of poppy fields. "Last year, raids were conducted at a few places and poppy worth crores destroyed," he said. "But the problem could not be exterminated."


Interestingly, "outsiders" — mostly Bangladeshi drug peddlers —lure local peasants into illegal cultivation of poppy. "A drug merchant makes capital investment and also buys the produce from the poor farmer whose profit goes up to several thousands of rupees. The lure of the lucre is hard to resist — you invest little and earn a handsome profit," the officer said.


The poppy pods are processed in Bangladesh. The druglords, who buy poppy from farmers in Sahebganj and Pakur, sell it in the international market at a much higher price. Besides these outsiders, Naxalite groups also indulge in the business for money to fund their organisations.


The market price of poppy pod varies from time to time. A single, mature pod can fetch anything between Rs 90 and Rs 130. Half-grown pods are sold at Rs 500-700 per bhari (about 10gm). Poppy milk, a gum like substance that is processed into opium, is sold at Rs 1,500-3,000 per bhari in the local market. The price in the international market is thrice, if not more.


The satellite watch has been spurred by recent reports prepared by the central economic intelligence bureau suggesting revenue loss of several crores because of illegal poppy cultivation. No official was ready to go on record with the exact figure. "You can imagine the loss to the state exchequer if you consider the price of opium ingredients," an intelligence official said.


Earlier, under the chairmanship of state home secretary J Tubid, district-level teams were constituted to counter the alarming rise in such activities. The committees comprise superintendents of police, district forest officers, district public prosecutors, representatives of district-level excise department, representatives of district-level special branch officers, representatives of district-level crime investigating bureau and district public relation officers. The deputy commissioners can nominate anyone in the committee.


The teams have been asked to identify poppy fields in their respective districts and destroy them. Now, the satellite maps will come in handy. A nodal officer has also been deputed in each district to co-ordinate between the state and police headquarters. A slew of other measures, such as awareness campaigns and rewards for information on opium dealers, have also been initiated to check the growing menace.


Sahebganj superintendent of police confirmed that they had received the guide maps and would take action accordingly. Sources in his office said raids were being planned in Rajmahal, Barharwa, Taljhari and Maharajpur. Pictures taken by remote sensing satellites show large-scale cultivation in these areas.


Telegraph 2009 15 May

Sahibganj public transport is in trouble because the authorities have seized vehicles for elections

SAHIBGANJ - Travelling to or out of this Jharkhand town sandwiched between Bengal and Bihar has become impossible because the authorities have seized vehicles for elections.


The district authorities argue they have no choice: the government doesn't have enough vehicles of its own. Sahibganj votes on April 23, but movement has almost been crippled a week before that because of the seizures.


Many voters who live elsewhere and want to get home before the elections on Thursday now face the prospect of not being able to cast their votes.


Buses and private taxis — the principal modes of transport in this part of the country — can't be seen. They have either been impounded or have been parked inside houses by owners fearing the seizures.


But district magistrate K. Ravi Kumar suggests getting around the place isn't easy at the best of times.


"Guess how many buses ply at any given time in this district with a population of 11 lakh? Eight," he says, trying to send the impression that the administration isn't to blame for a problem that goes beyond election time.


The seizures, however, appear indiscriminate; even basic services aren't spared. On Monday afternoon, an ambulance owner rushed into Kumar's office pleading that his vehicle — which could help save many lives — be "exempted".


Much of Jharkhand relies on such seized vehicles to ferry security forces, election officials and voting machines to poll booths.


Nothing is left out, not even vehicles being used for campaigning — like the Sahibganj district administration has done.


In most areas, the permission of the returning officer (district magistrate) is necessary for vehicles to be used for ferrying passengers a few weeks before elections.


DM Kumar, the returning officer for the Rajmahal Lok Sabha seat, argued that the authorities needed the seized vehicles as the constituency was a large one — made up of Sahibganj and Pakur, along with parts of Godda.


Kumar said nearly 400 vehicles had been brought from Malda in Bengal because there were not enough government vehicles.


But the Sahibganj authorities are not only seizing vehicles for themselves: they have arranged for some 100 trucks to be used for election duty in neighbouring Godda — from where Shibu Soren's son Durga is contesting as an Independent against the Congress nominee. Soren's Jharkhand Mukti Morcha has a seat-sharing deal with the Congress.


The owners of seized vehicles are to be paid a fee, but many complain they haven't got the money.


The payment problem partly explains why owners do not want to give their vehicles to the government for elections. They would rather park their vehicles inside their houses than risk such seizures.


Telegraph / 2009 April 23
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