<!– /11440465/Dna_Article_Middle_300x250_BTF –>West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has been vociferous in her criticism of demonetization, claiming the rural economy will be jeopardised by it. But in Malda, in North Bengal, demonetization has also affected the illegal opium trade in a big way.Malda is also a hub for illegal arms, cow smuggling and is referred to as India’s fake currency capital.The National Investigating Agency (NIA) in a report last year said that 90% of Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN) pushed into the country from Pakistan is routed through Bangladesh. Since Malda shares a porous border with Bangladesh, carriers smuggle the FICN into the country from here and release it into circulation. “Malda works as a landing point for agents, who circulate fake currency into the country. Malda shares its border with Nepal and Bhutan in the north and Bangladesh in the south. Agents who come from Bangladesh can easily sneak into our country as most of the International Border does not have fencing. Some agents even produce fake documents while entering our country,” a senior NIA official said.While the Bengal government has banned the cultivation of opium poppy, illicit opium trade has become rampant in the district and is partially dependent on the fake currency in circulation. Opium is a derivative of the poppy seed pod. Its cultivation takes place across three months – November, December and January in Malda. Agents from Bangladesh smuggle the poppy seeds and give it farmers. Farmers in return are increasingly cultivating the poppy seeds for better returns compared to the cultivation of other crops. “A bigha (0.4005 acres) of cultivable land yields 4 kgs of opium latex. The farmers scrape the latex before the poppy seeds mature and the latex is dried. For one kg of opium latex, a farmer is offered anywhere between Rs 60,000 – Rs 65,000 by the agent. Later, the villagers, who double up for the carriers, deliver the consignment from one point to another and receive a handsome amount of money, mostly fake currency notes. A carrier is supposed to cover a distance of 100 metres, which makes it difficult for the security agencies to keep track, as the entire village is engaged in it,” said a carrier, adding, “The final carrier hands it over to the agent and he deals with the drug mafias and the agents are paid Rs 1 lac for a kg of opium. The drug mafia later sends the consignment to other districts of Bengal like Birbhum and Murshidabad for processing. The opium latex is further processed into heroin and smuggled across the International Border into Bangladesh.” However, following the demonetization move, the opium trade has taken a hit and farmers are being offered Rs 30,000 for a kg of opium latex. “It is usually one of the most lucrative businesses. Cultivation of other crops depends highly on the rainfall we receive that particular year. But, cultivation of poppy is a great deal as it only takes three months to grow. It does not destroy the quality of the soil and keeps it ready for the cultivation of any other crop for the rest of the months. But, following the demonetization, we are being offered only half the amount of what was promised,” said a farmer, who refused to be named. He added, “The money that we used to receive also contained fake currency notes, but we did not mind as the fake notes were accepted anywhere in the district. Thousands of fake notes are in circulation in the district and no one refuses to accept it, hence we did not mind accepting those notes in the form of payment.” In the last five years, poppy cultivation has increased many folds. While the Kaliachawk-III was known for its poppy cultivation, it has now spread across Kaliachawk-I, II and Chachol-I, II besides blocks like Gajol, Bamongola and Habibpur. While the local police is taking up modern techniques like the use of drones to identify poppy fields and destroy them, farmers grow crops like sugarcane and maize on the periphery and use it as camouflage, making it difficult for identification. Last year, police reportedly destroyed several hundred acres of poppy fields. However, officials of the security agency reveal that some local police officials are hand in glove with the drug mafia and are often paid a commission to prevent destruction of their fields.
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