Grappling to curb the burgeoning narcotics trade in Himachal, the state government has mooted a plan to promote medicinal and aromatic plants in regions infamous for cultivating cannabis and poppy plants.
The state ayurveda department has drawn a proposal to encourage the rural population to grow herbal plants. “I strongly believe that medicinal plants are of great value and can emerge as an alternative crop to in regions known for poppy and cannabis cultivation,” ayurveda and co-operative minister Karan Singh told Hindustan Times.
There are more than 400 villages in the state that grow marijuana and poppy plants. Malana village in the interiors of Kullu district, which is notorious for the narcotics trade, still remains the focus of the drug cartels. Charas extracted from cannabis cultivated in Malana is in high demand in the international market.
Around 55% of cannabis and 64% of poppy is cultivated in remote areas of Kullu, Manali, Chamba, Shimla and Sirmaur districts of the state. After Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal produces the highest quantity of poppy in the country. In Kullu district, poppy cultivation is confined to Banjar, Malana, Bhelang, Melandar and Ani areas. Interiors of Mandi district, including Chuhar Valley, Balh Ropa, SilBadhnai and Sadhar, are also emerging as hotspots of poppy cultivation.
Poppy is also grown in Chamba district bordering Doda area of Jammu and Kashmir in remote areas of Kehar, Tissa and Bharmour. Opium extracted from poppy in Himachal finds its way to Haryana and Punjab, while some portion of produce is smuggled to Rajasthan.
“People living in remote areas my constituency grow poppy and cannabis for their livelihood. They will shun this practice provided they get to grow alternative crops,” said Karan Singh, who is also Kullu legislator.
The police and the Narcotics Control Bureau carry out drives to destroy cannabis and poppy plants annually in the state. In the past five years, the police have destroyed cannabis plants on almost 22,000 bighas of land while poppy has been destroyed on 6,000 bighas. However, the strategy to destroy cannabis has proved ineffective.
The ayurveda department has now decided to launch a drive to promote medicinal plants to discourage villagers from growing cannabis and poppy. “Plans are afoot to set up collections centres for the herbal produce in all district of the state. Besides, the ayurveda department is laying special emphasis in the areas infamous for growing the narcotics plants,” said the minister, adding that centres for collecting herbs would be set up in Jogindernagar, Banjar, Bara Bhangal and the interiors of the Chamba and Rohru.
Himachal rich in herbs
Himachal has rich diversity of medicinal and aromatic plants. Of the 100 most important medicinal plant species traded in the country, 24 are found in Himachal. The state exports some 2,500 tonnes of medicinal plants. The legal annual trade of medicinal plants in the state is around Rs 10 crore. The state government earns around Rs 40 lakh per annum from export permits for medicinal plants.