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Lankan govt launches drive against narcotics, wheat

Many might not agree but the Lankan government feels smoking cannabis and eating bread could both be injurious to health.

world Updated: Nov 09, 2010 15:59 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis

Many might not agree but the Lankan government feels smoking cannabis and eating bread could both be injurious to health.

So, it recently launched a drive against narcotics deploying thousands of policemen and special task force personnel in a most rigorous, country-wide anti-drug campaign in years.

More than 11000 people were arrested for growing, transporting or selling narcotics like cannabis – the only drug cultivated in jungles and remote areas – besides heroin and opium. Scores of drug rings were busted.

Under strict focus were Colombo and its suburban slums. Waves of early morning search operations were conducted in places where the urban poor remain cloistered. Prisons were raided though not always with the desired impact.

The government had said it was part of a plan to clean up the island of illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco by 2015. However, latest figures published in the Daily Mirror said excise duty from alcohol consumption had increased by about 19 per cent in the first five months of 2010.

The second, a more policy-based campaign was against wheat, normally considered less intoxicating than say an injection full of heroin.

“I am exceedingly glad at the fall in consumption of wheat-flour based products. This is a greater achievement than even the liberation of the East from the terrorists… the consumption of wheat was forced upon us, initially by the provision of wheat free of charge, and later on credit, until we were addicted to it,” President Mahinda Rajapaksa told a party meeting few years ago.

So, a loaf of wheat bread could soon become more sought after than cake.

In October, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation said: "the Government has re-imposed an import tax of 15 percent on imported wheat to reduce consumption of flour and support rice prices in anticipation of the bumper Yala (second half of the year) harvest."

Besides bread and buns, jobs are disappearing too. According to the Sunday Leader newspaper, some 2,000 bakers have shut shop. Recently, the Health Ministry banned the sale of wheat-flour based foods like bread and buns in government institutions like hospitals and schools. Opposition parties have said the cost of living is also rising.

Eating rice is patriotic. Eating wheat could undermine the country’s food security. That seems to be the government’s logic.