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In poll season, demand for making opium cultivation legal in Punjab intensifies

Press Trust of India  |  Patiala 

As tries to wriggle out of the grip of a continuing farm crisis and drug menace, a small set of farmers and politicians has been pushing for legalising cultivation in the state, arguing it will increase farmers' income and help fight "chitta" (synthetic drug).

The farmers seeking legalisation of cultivation say they will support those who accept their demand in the elections.

Patiala and Shiromani Rajya Sabha member Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa are among those advocating cultivation under the supervision of the

Dhindsa says small farmers in are under huge debt and fighting for survival. Opium cultivation under a government contract can turn things around for them.

"Opium cultivation can fetch Rs 5-6 lakh per acre. The financial condition of small farmers will change drastically if the government allows each to cultivate opium even in an acre of land," he says.

"The government cannot put a complete end to That's impossible. What we can do is we can replace more dangerous 'chitta' with natural drugs," the says.

"In many states, like in and Madhya Pradesh, farmers cultivate opium poppy under the government's supervision. One would not have heard of in such states, unlike Punjab," he says.

Dhindsa says most of the politicians in agree in private that opium cultivation should be legalised, but they don't say it publicly.

Gandhi, who is seeking re-election from the Patiala Lok Sabha constituency, argues a large number of people can be weaned away from more harmful synthetic if the government allows medically supervised, regulated production of opium.

He says the ban on has led to mafia selling cheap, more damaging drugs like cocaine.

"I have been demanding that the draconian Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, be scrapped. There's 10 years' imprisonment for a first offense, 20 years for a second offense and even life imprisonment or hanging if the desires so. For what? For consuming a small amount of opium husk or marijuana.

"Lakhs of people have suffered because of this in the last 20-30 years. They have been labelled criminals. The marginalised section of society has bore the brunt of this law, not the upper class or those who go to rave parties," Gandhi says.

On the drug menace in Punjab, he says countries like the US, the Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, Uruguay, and have decriminalised drug addicts.

"Their jails have been vacated. They have adopted a new approach. They have begun treating drug addicts like patients and not criminals," he says.

Gandhi, a by profession, had in 2016 moved a private member's bill seeking legalisation of recreational use of marijuana. The late and had also supported him.

However, Amarinder Singh's wife and the candidate from Patiala, Preneet Kaur, says the government has been trying very hard to contain the drug menace and the issue of opium cultivation requires proper legislation and a very-well-thought-of decision.

(Lakhowal) says that according to a study conducted in the states where governments allow opium cultivation, a can earn up to Rs 5-6 lakh per acre through poppy.

"Opium is a better alternative to synthetic drugs. Its consumption in small quantities is socially and culturally acceptable in the state.

"While paddy is a water guzzler, opium cultivation hardly requires any water. It also leads to crop diversification," he says.

"Recently, 50,000 farmers filled up forms seeking legalisation of opium cultivation and submitted them to the and Governor V P Singh Badnore, who happens to be from The said he will convene a meeting, but nothing has happened so far," Lakhowal says.

Another leader, Harjinder Ghumman, says, "We will give up our demand if anyone can prove that opium led to a death in Punjab. All the deaths in the state are due to 'chitta'."

He says that at places like Barnala and Sangrur, farmers are not allowed to dig borewells as the groundwater level had depleted to alarming levels. Opium cultivation is an answer to their problem as it doesn't require much water.

The farmers say they are supporting candidates who have been advocating the legalisation of opium cultivation like Pramjit Ranu, an independent contesting from Anandpur Sahib, Samarjit Mann of (Amritsar) in Sangrur, and Jagmeet Jagga in Faridkot.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, May 15 2019. 15:36 IST
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