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Bengal to use satellite imagery in fight against poppy cultivation, opium trade

After a spike in illegal poppy cultivation and opium trade along the Indo-Bangladesh border, the West Bengal government has decided to use satellites to track and bust the drug traffic.

india Updated: Oct 03, 2017 12:20 IST
Bengal excise department,Poppy cultivation,Narcotics trade
File picture of poppy cultivation. Under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, the Central Government is empowered to permit and regulate cultivation of opium poppy for medical and scientific purposes but most cultivation are illegal.(HT PHOTO)

The West Bengal excise department plans to use intensive satellite imagery to crack down on poppy cultivation and narcotics trade along the India-Bangladesh border by the end of this year or early next year.

The department plans to bring certain pockets in Malda and Murshidabad -- two districts notorious for illegal poppy cultivation and narcotics trade -- under intensive satellite imagery system. Illegal poppy cultivation is used mostly to produce opium.

According to state excise department sources, this system will capture minute details of the areas under focus. With these images one can identify crops and even detect movement of people across the border.

“Certain central agencies such as Narcotics Control Bureau, Border Security Force and Sashastra Seema Bal are using this high-end satellite tracking system. The state government will talk to the Centre for installing the system for the state excise department,” a senior officer of the Bengal excise department told HT.

Bengal will be the second state after Odisha to install this system. Odisha installed the system earlier this year to keep track of Maoists suspected of being involved in the narcotics trade.

According to the officer, the proposed pockets in Malda district in focus include Kaliachak, Manikchak, Harishchandrapur and Malatipur. In Murshidabad district, Raninagar, Suti and Jalangi and a few other areas will be under the scanner.

Since December 2016, the Malda district police have been using drones to track illegal poppy cultivation in the blocks that are close to the Indo-Bangladesh border.

Read more: Punjab’s Jalandhar sees rise in seizure of poppy husk coming from Jammu and Kashmir

Some farmers are switching to illegal poppy cultivation from other crops as it is far more profitable. Intelligence agencies have learnt that people from Bangladesh invest money in poppy cultivation in these areas.

The Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act or NDPS Act empowers the Central Government to permit and regulate cultivation of opium poppy for medical and scientific purposes but most cultivation are illegal.

“Our special focus will be Golapgunj, a remote village in the Kaliachak block of Malda district. According to NCB inputs, besides catering to the narcotics requirement in Bangladesh, this remote village has recently turned out to be an important narcotics sourcing hub for Russian-origin drug kingpins operating from the Morjim and Mandrem beaches in Goa,” the excise department official said.

“The matter will be discussed in detail after the state government resumes business after Lakshmi puja. If necessary, we will also seek technical assistance from different central agencies already having the system,” he said.

The excise department will also attempt to resurrect the erstwhile joint task force of different central and state agencies so that a coordinated counter-attack against this narcotics racket can be launched.

On September 12, a joint team of BSF and NCB seized one kilogram of opium from Kaliachak. The opium was seized from two persons who were on their way to deliver it to a contact near Kaliachak town.

In April this year, three persons died in Mominpara village under Kaliachak police station after they descended into a well to retrieve illegally hoarded poppy and poppy seed pods. They had inhaled toxic gas in the well and perished.

First Published: Oct 03, 2017 11:39 IST