Ganja: the new cash crop of Bengal

Updated: Nov 14 2004, 05:30am hrs
Reports of ganja (marijuana) cultivation in about three dozen villages of Nadia district in West Bengal along the Bangladesh border have embarrassed the Left Front government no end.

Authorities sat up only when a district secretariat member of the Communist Party of India (CPI) reported the matter in the party mouthpiece Kalantar, a vernacular daily, on October 12.

Although it is not known how much contraband narcotic has been seized, officials in the state excise department indicated that 1,000 kg had been seized in just one encounter on October 14. Five blocks Hanskhali, Karimganj, Nakashipara, Krishnaganj and Chapra were identified as flourishing ganja regions.

A CPI local leader who met some of the ganja-growers in Nadia district, submitted an anonymous report to the district Left Front committee stating: Recurrent failure to get remunerative price for paddy and jute crops forced the growers to change the cropping pattern, although not yet in a big way, to grow ganja in scattered plots.

The change in cropping pattern was first identified by the Krishi Prayukti Sahayaks (village-level agriculture consultants) of all the five villages.

It was brought to the notice of the district magistrate by the principal agricultural officer (PAO) last year, the report stated. But the authorities did not take any action, according to an PAO official. Higher-ups in the state administration of home (police) and excise departments went into action only after the report in the CPI daily came up.

It is estimated that farmers switched from traditional crops to ganja in about 1,400 bighas (2.5 bighas equals 1 acre). In Karimpur block alone (the home of state CPI(M) secretary Anil Biswas), around 3,600 growers are involved in cultivating ganja over 900 bighas.

In fact, in these districts, one bigha of marijuana cultivation with about 100 plants, generates a revenue of at least Rs 3.5 lakh. One ganja plant yields Rs 20,000 after its life of six months.

Agents of smugglers who have international connections visit and procure crops on the spot. According to the CPI leader, the total transactions per marijuana season were estimated at a little more than Rs 100 crore.

The smugglers and their touts come mostly from Bangladesh. This correspondent recently visited some areas in the ganja belt.

It was learnt from conversations with the residents and officials that the district administration has done nothing to stop ganja cultivation. Though the agriculture department has conducted over a dozen awareness camps about the pitfalls of ganja farming, Unless the police and district excise authorities cooperate adequately, our efforts go waste, rues a block farm extension officer.