A brief digest on the administrative practice of the monopoly system for opium in India


A brief digest on the administrative practice of the monopoly system for opium in India


Author: S.N. Asthana
Pages: 31 to 34
Creation Date: 1956/01/01

A brief digest on the administrative practice of the monopoly system for opium in India

M. Sc., Officer on Special Duty S.N. Asthana Narcotics Department (Government of India), Bareilly


Table of contents


"Settlements "--licensing system
Lambardar and his responsibilities .
Cadastral surveys .
Estimation of produce .
"Preliminary weighments"
"District weighments "--purchase of opium from cultivators

I. Introduction

It is the object of this article to present the working of the Narcotics Department in India, so far as the" district procedure" is concerned, in a form intelligible to those who have no technical acquaintance with the Indian Government's departmental procedure.

The Narcotics Commissioner of the Government of India Who has also been appointed as Opium Agent to superintend the cultivation and manufacture of opium under the Opium Act, 1857 (XIII of 1857), is the Head of the Narcotics Department, which is a subordinate office of the Ministry of Finance (Revenue Division). He is assisted by the Deputy Collector (Opium) and the Assistant Collector (Opium) both of whom have also been appointed as Deputy Opium Agents for the states of (i) Uttar Pradesh and (ii) Madhya Bharat and Rajasthan respectively. In addition to these officers there are a number of District Opium Officers who are responsible for the licensing of the cultivators, supervision over the poppy crop and collection of opium when it is ready.

II. "Settlements"--Licensing system

For over a hundred and fifty years opium cultivation and manufacture have remained a state monopoly, and today the Government of India has full control over poppy cultivation and the wholesale trade in opium. According to the requirements of the country for quasi-medical and medicinal purposes, and for export, the Government of India determines the area to be utilized for poppy cultivation during each year.

On receipt of orders from the Government of India, the Narcotics Commissioner communicates to all the opium officers general instructions in regard to the extension, restriction, or maintenance of the area under cultivation as compared with the previous year. Before commencing the task of licensing individual cultivators, every district opium officer collects information and statistics regarding all the licensees within his charge, carefully weighs their relative merits of the licensees, and prepares a forecast of the engagements to be entered into, using as a basis the orders issued by the Narcotics Commissioner. In determining whether the area of a cultivator should be increased or decreased, the officer is guided by the data of previous years, by the notes recorded in the licence register, and by his personal knowledge of local conditions. The engagements are perfectly voluntary on the part of cultivators and the officers are strictly guided on this point by the existing law on the subject (Sections 8 and 9, Act XIII of 1857).

The operations of the year begin with the annual "settlements ', which means; allotment of a specific area to each cultivator who has qualified for a licence. The language of Act XIII of 1857 implies that engagements be entered into by the officers of the Government with each individual cultivator who in turn receives an advance directly from the licensing officer. These advances are given in the presence of a kind of a foreman who is known by the name of lambardar.

The manner in which settlements are made, and advances given, is described in the following paragraphs.

The settlements are conducted under an elaborate system of rules, maps and registers introduced in 1877-78. Such maps, registers and inspection books are of great service to the officers engaged in conducting settlements. After preliminaries, each cultivator appears before the officer in-charge and puts in his request for the area he desires to use for poppy cultivation. The officer examines the history of the past three years of the cultivator from the licence registers and if the average yield etc. in the past years is found satisfactory, he is allowed to be licensed subject to his further' qualifying according to the licensing principles. After the cultivators of a particular village have been approved, the name of each such cultivator together with the area allotted to him, is entered into a prescribed form called the" miniature licence ", which is issued to each individual cultivator. The miniature licence contains full particulars of the area allotted, area actually put under cultivation, quantity of opium produced, class of opium and the price paid.

There is another form called the "joint licence ", which contains the names of all the licensees and the total licensed area in a particular village. This joint licence is kept by the lambardar, who produces it at the time of weighments for entering the weight of opium delivered by each cultivator and the price payable by the government for the same.

At the time of issue of the two licences a joint kabuliyat (agreement) is made with each cultivator of a particular village, and a cash advance paid to him in proportion to the area for which the licence is given. This agreement binds the cultivator to abide by the departmental rules and instructions regarding poppy cultivation. The lambardar of the village is asked to execute a security bond for effective supervision and control over the cultivators in his village. The surety who executes the security bond is generally another lambardar but two lambardars are not allowed to stand sureties for each other.

With a view to eliminating careless cultivators, and those who may be tempted to indulge in malpractices, the Government of India has laid down licensing principles for the guidance of the district opium officers. The licensing principles to be observed in 1955-56 as approved by the Government of India are set out in the Appendix.

Other points that need careful attention during the settlements are:

  1. that the lambardars are reliable men who enjoy the confidence of the cultivators;

  2. that the men coming forward for the settlement are good cultivators and can be trusted with advances;

  3. that the lands to be used for poppy cultivation are free from dispute and in the actual possession of the cultivators;

  4. that the proposed cultivation is conveniently situated for supervision;

  5. that in restricting cultivation to the authorized limits, preference is given to licensees who have previously shown good results; and

  6. that when an increase of cultivation is desired, extension is judiciously made in areas previously known from the records to be good.

III. Lambardar and his responsibilities

The lambardar is usually one of the substantial cultivators of the village. He regards himself and is regarded by others as a kind of subordinate official of the Government. He takes some pride in being called a lambardar. Besides making profit from his personal poppy cultivation, he is remunerated by the Government in the form of commission which is paid to him on the opium yield of the licensees assigned to him. Lambardars are held responsible for the utilization of suitable lands, for distributing advances to cultivators, for the proper cultivation of the lands by the licensees and for the collection of outstanding balances, if any. The lambardars are also responsible for the identification of the cultivators in their jurisdiction, and for the advances and miniature licences of the absentee cultivators, if any. They are also required to identify personally the field of each cultivator, and help the staff in the measurement of the fields. It is also the lambardar's duty to assemble all his cultivators in the village with their opium for preliminary weighment and to bring them to the weighment centre on the appointed date for classification, weighment of opium and for payment to the cultivators. These lambardars are also required to keep a keen eye on their cultivators, and on any suspicious characters in their villages, and to bring immediately to the notice of the opium officer, for necessary action, any information indicating the possibility of loss of opium from his village.

IV. Cadastral surveys

The settlements are usually completed by the end of September each year, and the cultivators begin to prepare their lands for the crop soon afterwards. The next step is to measure the cultivated area. The preliminary measurement (lathabandi) of the fields of each cultivator is done by the ziledar, a subordinate official of the field staff. The measurements are made with the aid of a pole 8 ft. 3 in. (5 1/2 cubits) long of which 20x 20 make an opium bigha of 3,025 sq. yds., equal to five-eighths of an acre. The ziledar, after measurement, demarcates each field according to the area actually licensed. After the seeds have sprouted and the seedlings are visible the kothi moharrirs, who are next higher in rank to ziledars, carry out the final ( pucca) measurements.

Particular care is taken by the measuring staff that unsown and unprepared lands are not measured, on the promise of being sown later. Moharrirs and ziledars (field staff) are also responsible for ensuring that no plot, however small, sown with poppy within the area of the villages included in their circles or beats escapes notice, and that any illicit cultivation discovered is brought promptly to the notice of the officer in charge with a view to punishing the offender.

The district opium officer and the gumashta, who control the field staff, next make their tours. The tours of these officers mostly take' place during the cold weather when, while in the interior, they have to camp out in tents. During these tours, the village inspection books are written up, and the state of the crop is noted. If necessary, enquiries are made whether the crop could be increased, whether it is desirable to increase it, what character the lambardar bears in the village, and whether the cultivators have any cause of complaint against him. Inquiries may also be made as to whether the cultivators engaged are honest, or whether some of them need to be removed in the following season because of any tendency towards clandestine sale of any part of their produce. The gumashta and the district opium officer also test-check departmental measurements to the extent of the percentage prescribed under the rules. Such test measurements are made with a view to checking the work of the field staff. Test measurements are made on the beat of every ziledar and are continued as long as they can be conducted without injury to the crop.

Other points which require the particular attention of the district opium officer on tour are:

  1. the prospects of the season, the state of the weather, and the condition of the crop;

  2. the sufficiency or otherwise of irrigation;

  3. the action taken in connection with the cultivators to whom and villages in which the cultivation of poppy has been prohibited.

In fact, during this tour, the district opium officer acquaints himself thoroughly with the conditions prevailing in the opium-growing villages with a view to tightening the preventive measures in the suspected villages and for the suspected cultivators at the time of, and after, the harvest.

V. Estimation of produce

It is a matter of extreme importance that a trustworthy and reasonably accurate estimation of the yield of each cultivator's crop should be made. To make such an estimate is neither impossible nor even very difficult. A careful inspection of the village fields by honest and zealous government officials affords material for an estimate which would leave little margin for the cultivator to withhold any part of the produce. An efficient and experienced staff of field officers is able to estimate with fair accuracy the total yield of opium in the 20 or 25 villages of their beats.

As the period for the maturity of the poppy capsules approaches, the entire field staff goes out to the poppy-growing villages. They inspect the field of each cultivator from different angles. In order to estimate the yield of the field a number of factors like the height and vigour of the plant, condition of the stems and capsules, nature of the soil of that particular village, and the variety of poppy seed used, are taken into consideration. Experienced officials take the sum total of all these factors and determine with considerable accuracy the quantity of opium that should be expected from the field. This estimate is noted down then and there in a register known as the "field book ". By this method, the total quantity of opium that should be expected from the entire poppy cultivation is also calculated.

VI. Preliminary weighments

The cultivators must necessarily be permitted to keep their produce in their houses from the time of the harvest until it is weighed and purchased by the government. This is the crucial period when smugglers are active. In order to check the clandestine sale of a part of the produce by dishonest cultivators, "preliminary" weighments have been introduced and have proved very beneficial. During the lancing and collection period, the field staff is also continuously on the move. As soon as any village completes the harvest, the opium of each cultivator of that village is weighed at his house at the earliest possible date, the object being that once the actual produce of each cultivator is known and weighed, the grower, even if he is so inclined, cannot illegally sell any quantity of opium out of his produce. The opium of all the cultivators is thus weighed within a week or ten days of the completion of the harvest.

VII. "District weighments" - purchase of opium from cultivators

Without going into the details of the weighment procedure which has been perfected with experience down to the minutest detail, with checks and counter-checks at every stage, it is proposed to describe here briefly how the cultivators are paid for the opium that is produced by them.

April and the first half of May is the period during which the process of receiving crude opium from the cultivators, testing and weighing the drug, paying for the quantity delivered, and forwarding the opium to the Ghazipur factory is in full swing.

In determining the date for commencement of weighments the officers of the department are guided by the general state of the drug, and the speed of the process of inspissation. If the season is dry, with westerly winds, the consistence of opium rises rapidly; if damp weather and easterly winds prevail, the weighments are deferred for a few days in order to give the cultivators time to inspissate their opium properly and to raise it to the required consistence. When the date for the commencement of weighment has been fixed, the programme is so arranged that groups of cultivators according to their licences are collected at a time, the number in each group being so fixed as to keep the scales fully employed. The summons are then served on the lambardars to appear along with the licensees in their charge on the prescribed dates.

All the licensees usually arrive a day earlier than the date for which they have been summoned, and the ziledars arrange the pots and plates in which they have collected their opium, by cultivator and by licence. The pots and plates are also numbered according to the number of the cultivator as it appears in the joint licence. Early next morning the classification and weighments of the opium brought by the cultivators are examined personally by the district opium officer who judges its purity and moisture content, i.e. consistence. As each plate is produced by the cultivator before the district opium officer he turns over the opium with his hand, examines it for impurities and he is so trained that just by feeling with his hand, he is able to decide the class to which opium in a particular pot or plate belongs. All payments to the cultivators are made in terms of 70o opium (70o opium means an opium with 70% solid matter, the remaining 30% being moisture). The opium is classified into the following categories:



79, 80, 81 and above
76, 77, 78
73, 74, 75
70, 71, 72
67, 68, 69
64, 65, 66
and so on down to Class VII.

If during the parakh (hand testing) it is suspected that the opium has been adulterated, a small quantity of it is spread with the finger in a thin film on a white glass slide and held up against the light to see if impurities like sand and earth, etc., are present. Thereafter, it is also tested for sugar and molasses by the Fehling's solution method, for tannin by the iron sulphate method and for gum, etc. by using rectified spirit. To avoid any chances of the opium being adulterated by well-pulverised items like starch, all plates of opium are subjected to the iodine test. The contents of all these suspected pots and plates are kept separately and consigned to the opium factory at Ghazipur for proper chemical examination by the chemists there. No payment for such opium is made to the cultivators at the time of weighments but subsequently if it is found that the opium was free from adulterants, correct and full payment is made to the cultivators, while if it is found to be adulterated, it is straightway confiscated and no payment is made to the cultivators. Such cultivators who bring adulterated opium are excluded from the cultivation of the opium poppy in the future and are also proscribed for poppy cultivation in future.

The classification of each individual pot or plate of opium is simultaneously recorded in the miniature and the joint licences. It is also recorded in a classification sheet, which indicates, at a glance, the number of pots or plates of various classes received from a particular village. After the opium of a particular village has been examined and classified by the officer and the classification and the number of pots or plates checked from the classification sheet, the opium plates are taken to the scales for weighment. The opium of each individual cultivator is weighed separately and stored class-wise in double bags- the inner one being of canvas and the outer of jute sacking. Opium of low consistence, viz., less than 64o is stored in earthen jars instead of canvas bags.

As soon as a quantity of one maund of opium has been put into a bag or jar, the same is closed and passed on to the test scale. If the gross weight is found correct, the bag or jar is closed and properly sealed. In case any difference in weight is noticed, all the relevant weighment records of that particular bag or jar are examined personally by the district opium officer.

The weight of opium of each individual cultivator is recorded in the joint licence, miniature licence as well as in the "weighment register ". Simultaneously, the price fixed by the government for the different classes of opium is also calculated and entered in all the above mentioned records against the names of individual cultivators. After these entries and calculations are thoroughly checked, the cultivators are called before the district opium officers to receive payment.

During the time of weighments, payment is made to cultivators in whole rupees only. The balance is paid after about 2 months at the time of next settlements by which time the opium has been examined at the Government Opium Factory and price per seer fixed according to the actual consistence as determined in the opium factory laboratory.

The Government of India fixes the price of opium to be paid to opium cultivators per seer at 70o consistence. This means that cultivators who deliver opium of low consistence get a lower rate than those whose opium is of higher consistence.

All the opium received by a district opium officer from the opium cultivators is dispatched by rail or motor truck, at convenient intervals, to the government opium factory at Ghazipur. Each such consignment is always escorted by an armed guard provided by the government opium factory or the local police authorities.



  1. Poppy shall not ordinarily be planted in any tehsil, pargana (administrative units) or village in which it was not grown during the 1954-55 season.

  2. No cultivator who did not hold a licence during 1954-55 shall ordinarily be licensed during 1955-56.

  3. Cultivators who deliberately planted poppy during the 1954-55 season

    1. in holdings not exceeding 1 bigha, an excess area of 2 biswas or more; and

    2. in bigger holdings an excess area of 10 per cent or more over the allotted area

    will be excluded from cultivation for the 1955-56 season.

  4. Cultivators who had resorted to illicit cultivation or were implicated in an offence under the Opium Laws or against whom there was evidence (such as mention of their names in the private records and accounts of a smuggler who has been arrested) showing collusion with persons engaged in the illicit traffic, or who had flouted the departmental instructions such as those relating to the surrendering of the opium pots etc., shall not be eligible for a licence.

  5. The average produce per bigha is the principal criterion for grant of a licence. To determine the eligibility of a cultivator, the average produce in any of the three years preceding, viz. 1952-53, 1953-54 and 1954-55, will be considered, i.e. a cultivator to become eligible for a licence must have secured the minimum prescribed yield (for individual) per bigha fixed for his tehsil in one at least of the three preceding years.

  6. The minimum yield as contemplated in item 5 above shall be

    1. In Madhya Bharat and Rajasthan : 5 seers per standard bigha (5/8 of an acre) for all cultivators in all tehsils and parganas except the parganas of Agar and Susner in Ratlam district (Madhya Bharat), and Dag and Gangdhar tehsils in Jhalawar district (Rajasthan). In the Agar and Susner parganas and the Dag and Gangdhar tehsils, the qualifying yield for the individual cultivators shall be 4 seers to the bigha.

    2. In Uttar Pradesh: 5 seers per standard bigha (5/8 of an acre) for all cultivators in Bareilly and Barabanki Opium Circles and 4 seers per standard bigha for all cultivators in Shahajahanpur and Faizabad Circles.

  7. If during the 1954-55 season the average yield of a village falls below 3 seers to the bigha in

    1. Agar and Susner or Dag and Gangdhar tehsils in Madhya Bharat and Rajasthan, or

    2. Shahajahanpur and Faizabad Circles of Uttar Pradesh, such villages will not receive licences. Similarly, if the average yield of a village in any other part of Madhya Bharat, Rajasthan or Uttar Pradesh falls below 4 seers, such villages will not receive licences.