Tripura: Two farmers held by Bangladesh security forces for smuggling drugs
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Agartala: Google ‘weed’, and you are likely to find numerous reports of the contraband stuff seized from Tripura. But as always, there is more than meets the eye. The story of weed in Tripura and why farmers continue to grow it despite knowing the pitfalls is a grave reminder of the chronic unemployment that grapples the state. 

The attitude towards weed changed majorly in 2018 when the newly-elected government launched the Nash Mukta Tripura campaign. The crackdown on weed has now become a concern for numerous families living in the bordering villages and trying to earn their bread and butter. 

Ratan Das, a farmer from Sepahijala district, was a farmer who continued to cultivate ganja on his farm field to make ends meet. However, since March 2018, his life changed. 

EastMojo visited one such village in the Sepahijala district. “The previous government never came out in support of cultivation of cannabis, but it neither ordered action against those involved with the cultivation. The police often conducted operations and seized little amounts of ganja. However, never did we face difficulties in the trade,” said Das.

Frequent raids by the joint team of Tripura Police, Border Security Force (BSF) and administrative officials have made it impossible to continue with the cultivation.

“There are many who got jailed after the change in government. The funding for cultivation has topped. Even the transportation of the dry ganja in sealed packets is seized due to the active role of the police in the inter-state border,” another farmer Ali (name changed) said.       

Ali also said that ganja has been cultivated for several years in Tripura, and the consumption rate is less. “Why doesn’t the government legalise cultivation? This will help both the state and farmers earn their livelihood,” Ali opined.  

The locals know that weed is illegal, and it is unlikely to be overturned anytime soon, especially by a government that has taken stringent actions. But in March last year, former BJP state spokesperson Prasenjit Chakraborty wrote a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding cannabis cultivation and claimed it to be beneficial for scientific purposes. 

“…government should constitute a national level regulatory authority to regulate cultivation, production, sale, purchase, transportation and use of ganja in the country. It would prevent any misuse of this precious medicinal plant that came to us as a blessing of nature,” Chakraborty wrote.

He also requested the PM to amend the Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. Since the BJP-IPFT government came to power, there has been a spurt in security forces seizing ganja in Tripura. 

According to reports, dry ganja worth Rs 11.14 crore was seized in 2018, which fell to Rs 4.86 crore in 2019. 

In January, inspector-general of Border Security Force (BSF) Tripura frontier Sushanta Nath said that the BSF personnel have recovered and seized contraband items and cattle worth Rs 41, 95, 23,665 crore in the last one year.

These include 4, 80,930 yaba tablets, 64,780 Phensedyl / Eskuf Syrup, 5, 216.25 kg of ganja, 3, 224 liquor, 2, 209 numbers of cattle, 2.237 kgs gold bars and miscellaneous contraband items worth Rs. 11, 33,17,497 were seized, while destroyed mature/immature ganja saplings worth Rs. 9, 41, 45,200 in the year 2020.

Tripura shares an 856-km-long international border with neighbouring Bangladesh, of which around 67 km area is unfenced.

Speaking with EastMojo, state Congress vice-president Tapas Dey said that cannabis legalisation would have both positive and negative consequences.

“The rural economy of the state largely depends upon weed cultivation for several years. That system has collapsed after the BJP-IPFT government launched the Nasha Mukta Tripura campaign. The government should have first reviewed the situation and dependency of people on the cultivation,” Dey said.

He also said that if the government has no willingness to legalise the cultivation, it should provide alternative income to those thousand families, especially in bordering villages, to sustain their livelihood.

In January, inspector-general of Border Security Force (BSF) Tripura frontier Sushanta Nath said that the BSF personnel have recovered and seized contraband items and cattle worth Rs 41, 95, 23,665 crore in the last one year.

“Legalising would benefit both the state and people, and generate income and revenue. Many states, including Uttarakhand, have already legalised the cultivation with certain guidelines,” Dey added.

Speaking with EastMojo, CPIM leader and former MP Jitendra Chaudhury said that the state government has failed to employ in the bordering villages in the last three years. The unemployment situation has turned worse.

“Before this government, it was a challenge to generate employment for several reasons, including geographical isolation and lack of infrastructure. The previous government had given utter priority to infrastructure creation and simultaneously to skill development programs. The Left government established the ITI and polytechnics,” Chaudhury said.

He also said, unfortunately, after the BJP-IPFT came into power, the process of value addition to whatever available was reduced.

“The industrial facilitation centre created at Bodhjungnagar and Dhukli are deserted. Whatever investment we had, has left the state. The bamboo and rubber parks were established by the previous govt and since then no new investment has arrived in the state,” Chaudhury added.

 “According to the CMIE data, the state has the second-highest unemployment rate in the country. Earlier, at least in the govt sector, the channel was open, which has been closed. The ganja cultivation has become the number one source of income in Tripura,” Chaudhury claimed.

He also took a dig over the BJP-IPFT government and said that the Biplab Kumar Deb government claims to make Tripura drug free, but they are doing the exact opposite.

“During the last three years, 40 licenses were issued for foreign liquor shops. This includes around 20 in Agartala given to people from outside in exchange for all money and commission”, Chaudhury said.

He also claimed that a sitting MP’s brother is one of the main pillars of this ganja cultivation and smuggling. Another influential minister of the cabinet has turned the Northern side of Agartala city into a ganja hub with indirect order to not conduct raids in that area.

“Youth morale has been destroyed, and Tripura has become the hub of all illegal drugs and all lawlessness things happening for which the government is responsible,” Chaudhury opined.

In January, Tripura Law minister Ratan Lal Nath told EastMojo that after assuming office in March 2018, the BJP-led government recruited 6,940 people in various government departments.

Of this, the government has recruited 2,733 people on a regular scale in various departments comprising 1,689 in the education department, 248 in the revenue department, 185 in the health and family welfare department, 92 in-home departments, and 96 in the agriculture and farmers’ welfare department.

“The Finance department also approved filling up 12,014 regular posts in the various department,” Nath said.

However, all these employment news has little to offer to farmers like Ali. They merely wish to know what they are supposed to do. If they grow ganja, they run the risk of arrest. If they do not, they risk chronic unemployment, starvation and even death. They wish to grow weed because it helps them survive. If they cannot grow it, they want the government to help them grow something else which is profitable. But it seems in the war on drugs, farmers are the only ones with no chance of victory or redemption. 

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