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Tainted imports? Indian traders say Turkish poppy seeds come from Taliban fields

Farmers, traders urge government to check imports from Turkey that they say helps fund terrorism and is hurting Indian farmers

india Updated: Jun 04, 2017 18:47 IST
Mustafa Hussain and Punya Priya Mitra
Mustafa Hussain and Punya Priya Mitra
Hindustan Times, Neemuch/Bhopal
poppy farming,poppy seeds,opium
A poppy field in Turkey. Traders and farmers in Neemuch claim the poppy seed imported from Turkey originates in Taliban-controlled fields where opium poppy is grown.(SHUTTERSTOCK)

Farmers and grain traders in Madhya Pradesh’s Neemuch say poppy seeds imported from Turkey originated in Taliban-controlled fields in Afghanistan and Pakistan, urging the government to stop the supply that is also driving down prices for Indian farmers.

Poppy seeds, known locally as posta dana, come from a species of poppy flower that also yields crude opium – the principal ingredient in narcotics like heroin. Poppy cultivation in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s NWFP region are under control of militant groups like the Taliban, who feed the global underground drug trade in an operation that is regarded as the backbone of their finances.

“The government should pay attention to this. Turkey does not produce as much posta as it is exporting to India. It is actually posta dana from Afghanistan and Pakistan, and in a way we are funding the terrorists. The import of posta dana from Turkey should either be stopped or checked,” said Niranjan Raju Tiwari, president of Krishi Upaj Mandi, Neemuch.

Neemuch, in northwest Madhya Pradesh, is the biggest market for posta dana in the country. Farmers from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh sell their produce here before it is retailed across the country.

“Traders in Turkey are purchasing posta dana from middlemen in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan and Pakistan and exporting it to India. The commerce ministry should look into this aspect,” said Nilesh Patidar, Neemuch district president of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the farmers union affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh.

Traders at the market say the imports from Turkey are not only cheaper but also of inferior quality to the domestic produce.

“Turkish posta costs around Rs 300 per kg, whereas the Indian posta costs around Rs 450 per kg. We should import posta only when there is need since its consumption in India is more than its production. This year, thanks to bumper production, there won’t be any shortfall,” said trader Manohar Bamb.

According to Union commerce ministry data, 18,655.41 mertic tonnes of poppy seed was imported from Turkey in 2015-16 and 29,541.43 metric tonne was imported in 2016-17.

Virendra Borana, the president of Opium Producers Association, Neemuch, filed a petition in the Allahabad and Delhi high courts to stop the sale of Turkish posta.

“Illegal opium producers in Afghanistan and Pakistan are least interested in posta dana, which is not as lucrative as opium supply, and give it away at nominal price to middlemen. This is why they are able to sell it so cheap. We have met our local MP Sudhir Gupta and also the finance minister to bring this to their notice, but government is not taking any action. The Delhi high court too did not intervene, saying that India has international obligations due to which they cannot ban import of posta dana,” he said.

Mandsaur MP Sudhir Gupta, however, said the Turkish import was not hurting farmers.

There is a cap on import of posta dana, he said, also mentioning that he was unaware of the supply being originating in Taliban areas. “If the traders know how it is being brought to India, let them tell me, I will get it investigated.”

State excise and police say they are aware of the concerns raised by the traders problem but are not sure who should take action.

Neemuch superintendent of police Manoj Kumar Singh said they were not looking into the matter since posta dana did not fall under the narcotics category.

Neemuch state excise officer Bhim Rao Vaidya said the department had information about Pakistani and Afghani posta dana coming to India through Turkey, but did not have jurisdiction of such a sale and pointed to the commercial tax department.

Assistant commissioner of commercial tax, RK Thakur said, “We are not interested in knowing from where the posta dana is coming. We are only interested in getting our tax i.e. 5% sales tax and 1% VAT.”

First Published: Jun 04, 2017 14:58 IST