Sunday, July 29, 2007

India: Dynamics of the Rajasthan drug trade

Farmers say they are unaware that growing opium is illegal

Commentary: Dynamics of the Rajasthan drug trade
Column: Incredible India

Reshma never knew what she was carrying. She was asked by a "friend" to go to Ajmer and hand over a small parcel, which was supposed to contain letters to the person waiting for her at the railway station. At the Ajmer railway station, however, she was met by the railway police who asked for her "parcel," which was found to contain drugs, not letters. She was subsequently taken into custody. Now Reshma is in prison awaiting trial. She was told by her lawyer that if found guilty she would be sentenced to seven years in prison.
Reshma is one among hundreds of people languishing in prisons in Rajasthan and neighboring Indian states facing charges of drug trafficking. Poppy cultivation in Rajasthan is not rare. In and around Manur, there are large poppy fields. Though the license for most farmers is for a small patch of land, the actual area for cultivation is a much larger piece of property, meaning the excess yield will have to be laundered and brought to market through safe routes.
The safety of routes is ensured by bribing law enforcement officers, from the state police to law enforcement agencies often unrelated to such a trade, like the railway police. Huge quantities of drugs are transported through various means. The entire illegal process is done with the knowledge of law enforcement agencies. However, these agencies periodically have to record a few arrests and recover some drugs. Reshma is a victim of one of these operations.
The drug trade could not flourish with the help of just a few corrupt law enforcement officers, however. Although the number of police officers actively engaged in the drug trade is alarmingly high, they could not carry on their illegal activities without the support of local politicians and state-level political party leaders. Political parties, irrespective of ideologies and affinities, support the drug trade, for the huge amount of money involved in the trade also funds their parties.
The money is used to contest elections and propagate party ideologies. In the recent past, the ruling political party and its factions distributed weapons to its followers in the name of religion. Naturally, a large amount of money was required to procure these arms. The party leadership ordered local cadres to manage the affair from the money they could collect in their area. It is well known in the state that a major portion of the money came from the drug mafia.
The police and politicians alone though could not manage the trade without the help of yet another group within the state structure -- the state judiciary. An alarming number of court staff as well as presiding officers in the state judiciary are corrupt.
The state government has spared no effort to induct "favorable" officers into the system. The policy is meticulously followed in appointments ranging from court clerks to High Court judges. One of the most sought-after positions is that of the office of the prosecutor. In such a corrupt structure, it is difficult for officers with integrity to coexist with their corrupt colleagues.
It is for survival that poor women from villages in Rajasthan volunteer to do errands for these people, without much knowledge of the nature of the drug-trafficking business. Once they discover what they have agreed to do and try to escape from the clutches of the agents and a completely corrupt system, they realize it is impossible. Those who resist end up like Reshma -- in prison awaiting trial.
The conditions in prison, of course, are uncomfortable, and imprisonment naturally limits one's freedom. Restrictions of freedom are not the worst of what awaits a female detainee in custody. She is likely to be exploited for sexual gratification by prison officers, but the abuse will not end there. Some women are taken out of the prison for "external services," mostly for the sex trade. This violence against women also occurs with the connivance of officers within the system, including the judiciary.
Every person detained during the period of their trial, which can last for years, is kept in custody for 14 days. The remand must be extended every 14th day, for which the detainee must be produced in court. The detainees, women in particular, are never brought to court, however. They are taken from the prison and transported elsewhere. The presiding officer, who is supposed to see the detainee to extend the remand, does so without seeing the person. While their case is before the court and in their absence, with the connivance of the prosecutor, court staff and the judge, the women are forced to "deal with" their "clients," who book them through the prison officers.
By the time her case is finally tried -- probably after five to 10 years -- the female detainee is likely to be emotionally broken and physically unfit for anything other than to wait for the imminent death that looms for anyone infected with HIV/AIDS or other serious sexually transmitted diseases.
While the state of Rajasthan boasts about its culture and tradition, much less is known about its role in promoting and supporting the international drug trade. Needless to say, the role of a fallen justice system is never debated while human rights groups inside and outside of Rajasthan lament the deteriorating condition of the rule of law in the state.
Drug trafficking in Rajasthan is a flourishing business. No one would ever dare stop it since it is a gold mine of money, influence and power. Leaders of the state administration are intoxicated with this influence that is injected into Rajasthan like a powerful opiate by the drug mafia of the state. While the entire state is suffering from this intoxication, it is also poisoning the rest of the world by being a silent, but huge, supplier to the world market of illegal drugs and narcotic substances.
(Bijo Francis, a human rights lawyer currently working with the Asian Legal Resource Center in Hong Kong, contributed this column while visiting Uttar Pradesh. He is responsible for the South Asia desk at the center. Mr. Francis has practiced law for more than a decade and holds an advanced master's degree in human rights law.)

Authorities have destroyed opium worth more than $150m

Crackdown on India's poppy crop
By Habib Beary
BBC News, Bangalore

Police in southern India have been cracking down on a flourishing trade in opium poppies.
Authorities have destroyed opium crops worth more than $150m in a number of raids across the state of Karnataka in the past two months.
Officials say the illegal cultivation of poppies is widespread.
They say farmers have taken to growing the crop because it is lucrative and easy to grow, with a harvesting time of 90 days.
Now a spate of police raids have scared them.
"We are living in fear. We don't know when the police will come again," says Mariapppa, a farmer in Kolar, 100km (62 miles) from Bangalore.
Stringent laws
The scene is similar in Mandya on the busy highway to the city of Mysore, a major tourist destination.
"My husband is innocent. We did not know this crop was illegal. I have not slept properly after police raided our farm," says 46-year-old Savithramma.
Her husband, A Krishnappa, is on the run.
Mr Krishnappa grew poppies on a two-acre farm at Algudu village close to the road.
Police have charged Mr Krishnappa under the stringent Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.
If found guilty, he could be jailed for a minimum of 10 years with a fine of $2,200.
"The person who gave us the seeds said it was for medicinal plants. We believed him and grew the crop. Now look at our plight," says Savithramma.
Most farmers growing poppies say they are innocent.
But senior police official, R Hitendra, says: "There is no ambiguity about the law. Opium cultivation is illegal.
"We are investigating who the end user is. The involvement of drug traffickers in the racket is also being looked into."
Although poppy seeds are used in making spices, there are fears that drug traffickers could be buying to make heroin.
Deals with agents
The cultivation of opium in Karnataka and parts of southern India has caught the attention of the Vienna-based International Narcotics Control Board.
In some of the fields, police found poppies being grown camouflaged between maize, cereal and sugarcane crops.
Agriculture Minister Srinivas Gowda says farmers are being exploited by drug dealers.
"Most of the farmers did not know that poppy cultivation is prohibited," he says.
The government, which does not want to be seen as being anti-farmer, has announced an amnesty until 31 March for those farmers who voluntarily surrender the crop.
Concerned over the unrest the raids have generated among farmers, a senior leader of the socialist Janata Dal Secular party, HD Kumaraswamy, has called for a halt to the crackdown.
"The farmers are naïve and have been growing poppies as any other crop," he says.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/03/25 08:40:03 GMT

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