The story of narcotics control in India (Opium)

Sections

Administrative set-up
Planning
Licensing
Cultivation
Lancing
Weighments
Mobile weighments
Washing opium pots
Processing of raw opium at Ghazipur
Incentive bonus and cash prizes
Narcotics intelligence bureau
Preventive
Drug addiction
Conclusion

Details

Author: D. N. KOHLI
Pages: 3 to 12
Creation Date: 1966/01/01

The story of narcotics control in India (Opium)

D. N. KOHLI
Narcotics Commissioner to the Government of India

The first records of the cultivation in India of the opium poppy for opium go back to the 15th century, and mention Cambay and Malwa as the places where it was practiced. It appears to have been cultivated first along sea-coast areas and to have penetrated later into the interior of the peninsula. During the days of the Moghul Empire, the poppy was extensively grown and became an important article of trade with China and other Eastern countries. During the later part of the 16th Century opium was made a State monopoly. However, after the fall of the Moghul Empire, the State lost its hold on the monopoly and control over the production and sale of opium was appropriated by a ring of merchants in Patna. In 1757, the monopoly of the cultivation of poppy passed into the hands of the East India Company who had by that time assumed the responsibility for the collection of revenues in Bengal and Bihar. In 1773, the then British Governor-General, Lord Warren Hastings brought the whole of the opium trade under the control of the Government. Since then, though changes have been made in the methods of control of production, distribution, sale and possession of opium, the monopoly has been solely in the hands of the Government and a strict control has been exercised in the best interest of the people of the country as a whole. Under the East India Company and afterwards under the British Rule, unrestricted cultivation of the poppy and the production of opium were prohibited.

After India became independent, in 1947 and with the promulgation of the Constitution of India in January 1950, control over the cultivation and manufacture of opium throughout India passed into the hands of the Government of India from the 1st April, 1950. In November 1950, the Government of India took the first step in a programme to unify and rationalize the system of control over the production of opium throughout the country by setting up a Central Organization known as the Narcotics Commission.

Having ratified all the international conventions on narcotics and being one of the major opium producing countries in the world, the Government of India has made considerable headway in the matter of prohibition of narcotic drugs including opium and cannabis.The All-India Opium Conference held in 1949 decided that within a maximum period of ten years the consumption of opium for other than medical and scientific purposes should be totally prohibited throughout the country. With a view to taking stock of the situation, and to devising further ways and means in this direction, two more All-India Narcotics Conferences were held in 1956 and 1959 which inter-alia reiterated the decisions of the 1949 Conference. As a result of the above decisions, oral consumption of opium for non-medical purposes has since been prohibited throughout the country with effect from 1st April 1959, barring however, a small quantity of opium consumed by registered addicts on medical grounds. This is reflected from the fact that as against 150 tons of opium issued for oral consumption during the year 1950, the present quantity is about 2,5 tons only. Likewise, the number of registered addicts has decreased from 200,000 in 1956 to 124,904 at the end of the year 1963. The number of opium smokers which stood at 2,504 during the year 1953 has also come down to 1,822 at present. What is significant is that the new generation is not taking to opium. It is therefore reasonable to expect that at a not too distant date opium addiction would be a thing of the past.

The Government of India's policy in regard to cultivation of poppy is guided by her international obligations to restrict production of opium to the quantity actually required for export for medicinal purposes as well as for consumption within the country. At present cultivation of poppy is confined to the traditional poppy growing tracts, which are concentrated and contiguous, in the States of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where yield is maximum and proper control over its production could be exercised. In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan where irrigational facilities are still somewhat inadequate, poppy often provides the principal available cash crop in the areas in which it is sown. This, combined with a highly organized system of licensing, which is based on a progressively increasing minimum yield for qualifying for a licence has induced the cultivators to tender maximum yields to the Government. Through the operation of these licensing principles, as also payment of cash awards to cultivators, the Government has been able to step up the average yield from 20.12 kg. per hectare during 1953-54 to 30.60 kg. per hectare in 1963-64 season. Taking possession of the opium from the cultivators soon after the harvest through the system of mobile weighments, and organized checks in and around the growing areas, have also contributed largely to stopping the illicit flow of the drug from such areas to the outer world.

OPIUM The average yield per hectare has gone up successively from 1948-49 to 1963-64 as a direct result of the tight control. This has enabled India to reduce the number of cultivators and the area under cultivation which is a step in the direction of fulfilling the aims and objectives of narcotics control.

Full size image: 15 kB, OPIUM The average yield per hectare has gone up successively from 1948-49 to 1963-64 as a direct result of the tight control

The photographs and charts in this article depict some of the many operations connected with the poppy cultivation in India, the manufacture of opium, and preventive measures against illicit trafficking.

Administrative set-up

The Central Agency which administers the Narcotics Laws is the Narcotics Commissioner to the Government of India under the overall control of the Ministry of Finance (Department of Revenue). The Narcotics Commissioneris assisted by the Deputy Narcotics Commissioner at Ghazipur and Assistant Narcotics Commissioners at Neemuch, Kota and Lucknow. These charges are again sub-divided into what are known as " Divisions " and each division is headed by an officer called the " District Opium Officer ". The charge of a District Opium Officer is so formed that with the assistance of the staff under him he can effectively exercise control over poppy cultivation right from the time the seed is sown till the opium is collected from the cultivators and sent to the factories.

Planning

Every year a high level conference is held before the cultivation starts to decide the area to be cultivated and to formulate the principles on which the licenses should be issued to the cultivators.

Administrative set up concerned with production and manufacture of opium.

Full size image: 10 kB, Administrative set up concerned with production and manufacture of opium.

Licensing

The " Licensing Principles " aim at eliminating undesirable cultivators and unproductive tracts by progressively stepping up the minimum qualifying yield for purposes of determining the priority for a licence. Experience has shown that the licensing principles have proved to be the backbone of the entire policy regarding poppy cultivation. The number of cultivators which was 201,441 in 1960-61 has accordingly come down to 77,747 in 1963-64, and as many as 123,694 inefficient cultivators have been weeded out. Once the licensing principles for a crop year are announced, licenses are issued to the cultivators strictly within the terms of the conditions laid down in the licensing principles. The licensed cultivators thereafter start sowing the poppy seed.

Cultivation

The District Opium Officer issuing licences to the Cultivators on the basis of their eligibility.

Full size image: 6 kB, The District Opium Officer issuing licences to the Cultivators on the basis of their eligibility.

The cultivation of poppy is a long and careful operation and starts after the advent of rains. The fields are extensively ploughed and watered before the poppy seeds are sown. The seed is mixed with earth and broadcast in the field in October each year. Each field is usually divided into three or four parts and each part is sown at intervals of three to four days. Germination takes normally from five to ten days depending upon the humidity of the soil and atmosphere. After the plants are 2 to 3 inches high, thinning and weeding is done and repeated at regular intervals so that the plants are seven or eight inches apart from each other. In normal healthy plants flowering takes 70 to 75 days after the germination of the seed and in two or three weeks, the capsules are ripe for extraction of latex. Every plot under poppy cultivation is measured by an officer to ensure that there is no excess cultivation.

Full size image: 14 kB
Poppy capsule fully ripe for lancing.Ripe capsule being lanced.

Lancing

The lancing operation is an interesting process which commences in early March. A special type of implement is used for this purpose which consists of three or four iron blades with sharpened points tied together by cotton thread in such a way as to create a space of about 1/30th of an inch between any of the two blades. An incision is made on the capsule which should be of the right depth to obtain the maximum latex. Lancing is done in the afternoons so that the latex has time to dry up overnight. It is thereafter collected the next morning in discs and stored in earthen pots.

Latex being collected in a disc.

Full size image: 4 kB, Latex being collected in a disc.

Each cultivator is required to show his daily collection to the village head-man who enters the quantity in the village licence. On-the-spot checks of produce of each grower are made by the field staff throughout the cultivation season. The field staff now gets ready to collect the opium from the farmer as early as possible.

Weighments

A programme of weighments is chalked out by the District Opium Officers well in advance of the proposed dates of weighment, centres at which collections have to be made are decided and advance intimation sent to the cultivators to bring their produce to the weighment centres on specified dates. At the weighment centres, the District Opium Officer classifies the grade of opium presented by the cultivators by touch and observation and preliminary tests. The produce of each cultivator is weighed separately on beam scales and transferred to polythene bags of uniform weight. The price payable to each cultivator is simultaneously determined through ready reckoners and 90% of the value is paid to the cultivator on the spot. Suspected and adulterated opium is stored separately and the payment is deferred till the chemical analysis report is available.

Cultivators assemble at the Weighment Centre to tender produce.

Full size image: 6 kB, Cultivators assemble at the Weighment Centre to tender produce.

Mobile weighments

Besides these regular weighments, mobile parties are also sent to cultivation centres in the interior. This method has proved quite successful because the cultivators are taken by surprise and the chances of their withholding the stock are minimised.

Pots are washed not to leave a trace of opium

Full size image: 6 kB, Pots are washed not to leave a trace of opium

Washing opium pots

Since opium is collected by the cultivators in earthen pots, some quantity remains adhered to the pots and as such the pots are carefully washed and quite a sizeable quantity of opium is thereby collected.

Processing of raw opium at Ghazipur

Opium collected from the cultivators is sent in suitable batches to the Government factories at Neemuch, Mandsaur and Ghazipur. The factory at Ghazipur also manufactures alkaloids. A brief account of the different stages - from the time raw opium is received in this factory till its final despatch either for export or issue to the States - is indicated below.

Opium is dried in wooden trays.

Full size image: 5 kB, Opium is dried in wooden trays.

After unloading, the bags are opened and a sample is taken out from each bag to assess the morphine content and water consistency. Thereafter the opium bags are emptied in vats with capacities ranging from three' to thirty tons, each vat containing opium of one grade only. According to the requirements, opium is removed from the vats and dried in wooden trays which have a capacity to hold 10 to 35 kg. By constant manual stirring opium is dried to the required consistency. A mechanical stirrer has also been installed to reduce dryage time.

Opium cakes wrapped in butter or tissue paper being packed in a wooden chest.

Full size image: 5 kB, Opium cakes wrapped in butter or tissue paper being packed in a wooden chest.

After the opium reaches the required consistency, it is sent to the packing section for weighment, cake making and packing. The cakes are made of different weights depending upon the customer's preference and they are wrapped in butter or tissue paper as required. They are again covered by a polythene bag and packed in wooden chests. The chests are now ready for despatch.

Incentive bonus and cash prizes

To give incentive to the cultivators to tender a higher yield of opium, the Government of India has introduced incentive bonus and cash prize schemes. As much as Rs.4,000,000 are distributed every year as bonus and prizes to the cultivators who truthfully surrender their produce to the Government. Merit certificates are also awarded for good performance at a special function held on the "Opium Day". These measures have been responsible to quite some extent in the cultivators not holding back their produce.

Narcotics intelligence bureau

In spite of efforts to net all the opium crop from the cultivators, a small quantity does trickle through due to the exorbitant prices available in the illicit market.

OPIUM SEIZURES

Number of seizure cases and quantity of opium seized.

Full size image: 6 kB, OPIUM SEIZURES

However, looking to the vastness of the country and the extent of the population, the illicit traffic is negligible and it is almost wholly domestic in character. To tackle this problem, extensive measures have been taken both by the Centre and the State Governments. The Narcotics Intelligence Bureau working under the guidance of the Narcotics Commissioner collects and disseminates all information relating to narcotic offences. This Bureau also maintains close liaison with the preventive agencies in the States.

Secret chamber in the ceiling of Dodge car containing opium bags weighing 116 kg.

Full size image: 8 kB, Secret chamber in the ceiling of Dodge car containing opium bags weighing 116 kg.

Secret chamber in mudguards with an opening in the front lights contained 38 kg. of opium.

Full size image: 7 kB, Secret chamber in mudguards with an opening in the front lights contained 38 kg. of opium.

All the doors of the Chrysler car had secret cavities full of opium, 126 kg.

Full size image: 479 kB, All the doors of the Chrysler car had secret cavities full of opium, 126 kg.

5 kg. of opium found a place in a secret chamber of a box.

Full size image: 8 kB, 5 kg. of opium found a place in a secret chamber of a box.

The detective dog traces hidden contraband and " arrests" the smuggler.

Full size image: 6 kB, The detective dog traces hidden contraband and

Preventive

There is a posse of preventive staff in each of the growing areas and also a Preventive Cell at the Headquarters of the Narcotics Commissioner who are constantly on the watch for smuggling offences. Seizures are effected by them in internal traffic hidden in secret chambers of automobiles and various other modus operandi employed by smugglers. During the weighment season when smugglers attempt to transport illicit stocks in fast-moving vehicles, watch posts are set up on all vulnerable roads in order to corden off the growing areas. Detective dogs have also been employed to trace hidden stocks of opium. In short, the preventive measures have gone a long way to effectively curb smuggling of opium and other narcotic drugs. These controls have contributed in no small measure to the increase

Full size image: 9 kB

OPIUM ADDICTION

The number of addicts show a reduction every year; in 1964 we had less than 1/3rd of the addicts in 1958. The quantities of opium issued for oral consumption also came down from 105 tons in 1948 to a bare 2.5 tons in 1964; the results are self-evident.

Full size image: 8 kB, OPIUM ADDICTION

Drug addiction

The scope of drug addiction in India is fortunately limited, being confined almost only to opium and cannabis. There has hardly been any addiction ever to white drugs. The production of opium, and manufacture of opium alkaloids and derivatives is a Government monopoly. The import of foreign drugs both natural and synthetic is strictly controlled so that while import of some dangerous drugs like Diacetylmorphine and Ketobemidone is totally banned, the import of other drugs like Pethidine, Cocaine and Methadone is strictly restricted to the barest minimum requirements for medicinal and scientific purposes. The possession, processing, manufacture, transport, import, export, inter-state movement of drugs and their preparations are rigidly controlled. The chemists, druggists, hospitals, medical practitioners and veterinarians are required to maintain accounts and submit returns to obviate any chances of misuse of drugs.

India is one of the countries where the consumption of narcotics as analgesics is very low. The consumption of opium per addict as well as per capita have both shown a heavy fall during the last four years.

CONSUMPTION OF NARCOTIC DRUGS

Full size image: 9 kB, India is one of the countries where the consumption of narcotics as analgesics is very low

The registration of opium addicts is banned after 1958 except under exceptional circumstances on the advice of a medical board. The measures adopted have led to the reduction of opium addicts from 432,609 in 1958 to 124,904 in 1963. The addicts are mostly in the age group of 50 years and above and the younger generation is not generally taking to opium eating. The quantity consumed is progressively reduced every year so that against a total consumption of 150 tons in the year 1950 it has come down to 2 1/2 tons in 1963. Opium smoking has almost vanished. There are hardly 1,822 registered opium smokers today in India with a population of 420 millions. Charas (cannabis resin) is totally banned in India and the consumption of ganja (cannabis) was about 10,700 kg. in 1963. Propaganda and publicity through Government and Social welfare organizations to awaken the public conscience against addiction has proved effective.

Conclusion

It would be recalled that the system of control exercised by India on poppy cultivation has evoked the highest praise in the Narcotics Commission every year. While we are grateful for these compliments, we accept them in all humility and assure that we shall strive still harder to put an end to the evils which flow from misuse of opium and other narcotic drugs.