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Spilled: rebel poppy beans

Calcutta, Nov. 14: Maoists are encouraging farmers in Nadia and Murshidabad to cultivate poppy and extorting money from opium and heroin dealers, the CID claimed today.

The Maoists also collect small “donations” from poppy cultivators on the promise that the farmers would be given “protection from local toughs”, arrested Maoist leader Ajit Das has allegedly told the CID.

Cultivation of poppy, from which opium, heroin and other drugs are made, is prohibited in Bengal.

Das was arrested on November 8 on the charge of murdering a grocer in North 24-Parganas’ Halisahar. Gopal Saha was shot dead for refusing to pay Rs 1 lakh to the rebels.

“We suspected something was wrong when we found out that Saha was only a small grocer and used to live in a tin house,” a CID officer said. “Why had the Maoists demanded Rs 1 lakh from such a small trader when there were more affluent people in the area?”

The officer said that when Das was asked this question, he told the interrogators that Saha was a drug dealer. “Das confessed that the Nadia-Murshidabad unit of the Maoists had recently adopted the strategy of encouraging poor farmers to cultivate poppy,” the officer said.

Another CID officer said Das, the secretary of the zonal unit, had told the investigating agency that the Maoists had zeroed in on farmers living in Nadia and Murshidabad villages near the India-Bangladesh border.

“These farmers are experienced in poppy cultivation,” the officer said. “In places like Betai, Tehatta, Karimpur and Nazirpur, the economy is partially dependent on the illegal cultivation of poppy.”

Last year, poppy cultivation in the state had suffered a setback after the police destroyed the crop across 2,000 acres in Nadia, Murshidabad and Birbhum. “Das and other Maoist leaders were encouraging the affected farmers to cultivate poppy again,” an officer said.

Although poppy farmers have to pay a small share of their profit to the Maoists, the rebels’ main targets for extortion are drug dealers and buyers of the banned crop, the officer said. “The Maoists get the names of opium and heroin dealers from the farmers,” he said.

CID officers said Saha, the murdered grocer, used to buy poppy seeds from farmers in Nadia and sell them to manufacturers of opium and heroin.

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