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Free pea seeds to nip poppy in bud

Suri, Oct. 14: The Birbhum agriculture department has decided to distribute free seeds of winter crops such as green peas, gram, mustard and pulses among farmers in pockets of the district to dissuade them from growing poppy.

“We have identified the places where poppy was cultivated in the past two years. If we help the farmers cultivate winter crops, the land will be filled up and middlemen will not be able to influence them to grow the banned crop. We have requested the state government to sanction Rs 30 lakh to buy the seeds,” said Pradip Mondal, the deputy director of agriculture in Birbhum.

Cultivation of poppy, from which opium is made, is prohibited in Bengal. But the large profit margins lure many farmers into growing the crop, mainly in Nadia, Murshidabad and Birbhum.

The district administration and police said they were worried after receiving reports from villages that middlemen, mostly from the border districts of Nadia and Murshidabad, had approached a large number of farmers to cultivate poppy this year too. The middlemen supply the poppy seeds.

“In the past two years, we destroyed poppy cultivated in Rajnagar, Khoirasole, Dubrajpur and Mohammad Bazar,” a police officer said.

According to a district official, the soil in these four places is “less fertile and farmers are mainly dependent on rain”. “Because of inadequate rain, the aman yield fell short of expectations in the past two years. So farmers were forced to grow poppy,” he said.

Poppy cultivation is allowed in India in notified tracts in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan under licence. That is where the posto in Bengali kitchens comes from.

A Birbhum district official said the agriculture department had given the “assurance” that the first tranche of funds for the free seeds would come in early November. The decision to distribute the seeds was taken late last month.

“A farmer earns only Rs 8,000 a bigha by cultivating aman paddy and Rs 10,000 a bigha by growing pulses and oil seeds. On the other hand, farmers earn about Rs 50,000 a bigha by cultivating poppy and selling it to middlemen. The middlemen sell the gum of the poppy pod to drug dealers,” a senior police officer said.

A farmer from Tarapur village in Khoirasole block said: “In 2008, there was a drought-like situation in Birbhum and I could not cultivate aman paddy on my five-bigha plot. That winter, I cultivated posto and earned nearly Rs 2.5 lakh.”

Poppy is usually planted in November and harvested in January.