Drones to be deployed to destroy hidden marijuana plantations; Centre to offer alternative crop to cultivators

Yatish Yadav

The Centre has decided to deploy drones to destroy marijuana plantations before the crop is harvested and finds its way into the hands of the drug cartels. A decision has been taken by the Ministry of Home Affairs with states and Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) on board to investigate illegal operations suspected to be carried out by the farmers in some states, along with other crops to conceal the prohibited activities. The Centre will use satellites to detect marijuana crops by penetrating the lighter foliage and drones will subsequently destroy the plants.

"Drones could be deployed to carry out spraying of chemicals to destroy the crops. Efforts to be made for getting to the root of the supply chain in drugs and identify the drug-terror nexus," as per documents reviewed by Firstpost.

According to officials privy to the development, India is following the modus operandi adopted by the US in dealing with marijuana plantations. US authorities have been using airplanes and drones to detect and destroy illegal plantations. Last year alone saw 414 tons of plant being seized in more than 24,000 cases. That figure is likely to go up this year once the NCB data is collated.

There are reports of large-scale smuggling of marijuana from Tuticorin to Maldives and Central agencies are working with state law enforcement authorities to detect the source.

"The focus is on northeastern states, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Bihar, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Rajasthan and Haryana. Around 2,160 kilograms of marijuana harvested by farmers was unearthed in Andhra Pradesh  while 2,328 kilograms was seized in Kanpur from farmers who were delivering it to a drug cartel.

Three consignments from Tamil Nadu bound for Sri Lanka were seized by the Cost Guard. Recently, illegal plants were destroyed in Agartala, Jodhpur and Muzaffarpur. Districts of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar bordering Nepal as well as Nagaland and Tripura remain major smuggling routes. "The states will be provided with support to effectively curb the illegal cultivation and smuggling of contraband substances," officials said.

Legal cultivation of limited crop of marijuana for medical and scientific purposes is licensed under Section 10 of the Narcotics, Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act and mainly used in alternative medicine such homeopathy and ayurveda. On the other hand, illegal cultivation is an offence under Section 20 of the NDPS Act.

In the proposed move, the NCB, Central Bureau of Narcotics (CBN) along with state authorities have tasked to collecting field intelligence, destruction of illegal cultivation and arrest offenders. Central Economic Intelligence Bureau (CEIB) will procure satellite surveys of illicit cultivation and will share the images with NCB, CBN and state agencies.

Since farmers are taking up cultivating marijuana to make large profits quickly, the government is also encouraging alternative mechanisms to wean them away by training them to grow other crops. But this mechanism is strictly limited to certain pockets where farmers can establish that they have been traditionally growing marijuana and their livelihoods depend on the illegal crop and it is not easy money.

"Although the primary means of tackling illegal cultivation will be the destruction of the crop and prosecution of the offenders, certain pockets where illegal cultivation has been a long tradition and the survival of the local population depends entirely on it, such areas will be identified through mutual consultations between the Central agencies and the concerned state governments after a thorough examination of the issue case by case," documents further said.

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