SRINAGAR:  Heaven on the earth has become a haven for narcotics cultivation.

Amid COVID lockdown, law enforcing agencies have destroyed poppy crop spread over 2769 kanals in Kashmir.

Eight districts of the valley have emerged as the haven for the narcotics cultivation. This year there has been a major shift in the cultivation of poppy. Earlier south Kashmir districts were seen as the hotbed for poppy cultivation, but this year the focus has shifted to north and central Kashmir.

 Figures released by Excise Department reveal that poppy crop spread over 991.2 kanals land has been destroyed in Budgam district alone till June 11. It is followed by Baramulla where poppy grown over 417.12 kanals of land has been destroyed by the law enforcement agencies.

Pulwama district, which was infamous for poppy cultivation, has been relegated to the third position. Narcotics spread over 391 kanals of land have been destroyed in the district. Likewise, poppy over 93.5 kanals of land has been destroyed in militancy infested Shopian district.

Poppy spread over 307 kanals, 256 kanals and 312 kanals have been destroyed in Anantnag, Kulgam, and Bandipora districts respectively. Ganderbal is at the lowest of the table in the poppy destruction.  Poppy over 1.5 kanals of land has been destroyed in the district till June 11.

“It is action on a go. Whenever we get information about any cultivation, we ensure its destruction. There is no specific survey about the total area being used for narcotics cultivation. It is survey on a go,” Tahir Aijaz, the deputy commissioner of the excise department, told The Kashmir Monitor.

Experts say that the cultivators are shifting focus to newer areas so that they remain off the radar. “For example, if we target a particular area, the cultivator does not take another chance to grow the crop at the same place.  For example, Maloora in Shopian is infamous for poppy cultivation. Last year we destroyed the crop over 495 kanals of land in this area. This year, just five to seven kanals of land were under the poppy cultivation,” said Tahir.

Poppy cultivation starts soon after the snow starts melting in Kashmir. It is one of the fastest crops that grow in Kashmir. “By mid-March its cultivation is completed and by mid-April, the crop starts maturing. Since there was COVID, we started destroying crop from mid-May,” said Tahir.

Preliminary investigations have revealed that there is an organized syndicate behind the cultivation of poppy. “Some areas which were not on our radar this year have seen poppy cultivation. This indicates that some organized network other than the cultivators is behind this activity,” he said.

Punjab and Rajasthan have emerged as a potential market for Kashmir poppy. Most of the crop is smuggled to these two states where it is refined into opium and sold at huge prices.

“The exercise of extracting opium from poppy is not happening here.  It is mostly smuggled in powdered form which is called fukki,” Tahir said.

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