Poppy farmers in Madhya Pradesh’s Neemuch and Mandsaur districts are forced to take up arms against robbers to protect their doda chura (poppy husk), prices for which are expected to skyrocket after severe crop loss.
With close to 99% of the farmers already facing severe crop loss due to harsh weather, the loss of poppy husk, commonly known as “bhukki” here, is a double whammy for a trade central to the area’s fragile economy.
“About half a dozen of robbers came to my opium field at around 10pm on February 25 and when I tried to stop them, they attacked me with an axe. I raised an alarm and then other farmers reached the spot and they fled away,” said Bholaram, a resident of Ucheda village. Bholaram was seriously injured in the attack, and the miscreants made away with two sacks of poppy husk.
Police records show that about a dozen similar incidents were reported in the region, nine of them in Neemuch district alone, over the last 20 days. Local gangs, in addition to a few from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, are suspected to be behind the attacks, said superintendent of police, Neemuch, Manoj Singh.
With increasing number of incidents, the farmers are flocking to authorities to procure gun licences to defend their crop — 1,982 farmers have procured gun licenses in Neemuch alone. The villagers now guard the opium fields in shifts, day and night.
“We are scared about the looters. They supply this doda chura to some middleman, who sells it to highway dhabas and other places of Rajasthan and UP,” said Suresh Patidar, a poppy farmer.
The price of poppy husk in the black market is expected to increase 200% in the next few weeks because of the loss of the opium crop, police sources said. Experts, on the other hand, expect the price to rise to Rs 4,000-5,000 from the usual selling price of Rs 500-1,000.
SP Manoj Singh, however, has assured farmers that the police was prepared to deal with the armed robbers. At a meeting with all station house officers (SHOs) of the district, Singh ordered 18 police vehicles and additional police force to deal with the menace. The SHOs, in turn, have instructed village guards and Gram Raksha Samiti members to patrol their respective villages.