SHIMLA: Sipping chai at a kiosk in Shimla, farmer Ramprasad turns coy when asked what he cultivates on his tiny parcel of land amid the hill in Kangra district. He’s a 48-year-old man who has come here to canvass for a political party. He only giggles in response.
The chaiwala supplies the details. “These people in the hills above grow cannabis and opium. That’s why the phirangs go up there.”
The snow-capped mountains and gushing brooks of Himachal seem straight out of a Tennyson poem but there’s a stark side to this seeming serenity: ever-increasing drug cultivation and abuse, which has reached serious enough proportions for it to become an issue in this election, just as it did in neighbouring Punjab. The BJP and Congress blame each other for it, although it’s a phenomenon that dates back four decades.
Top officials in the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) and the Himachal police say it has now become rampant. “This is common knowledge,” said a source. “Mandi, Kullu, Kangra, Chamba and even villages close to Shimla are notorious for it.”
Officials say foreigners are training local farmers in cultivating hybrid varieties of cannabis. Some of them stay for months and even years. There have been instances of them marrying local women to be able to stay longer. They settle in the upper hills which are cut off from the rest of the world for long periods, either due to weather or inaccessible roads. Some of them run restaurants and hotels in partnership with local people.
The state police have an internal report on foreigner involvement in illicit cultivation of cannabis and its trafficking. “Malana and Kasol are notorious for cultivation. Hashish (the resin extracted from the cannabis plant) produced in the region has become popular nationally and internationally as Malana Cream,” it says.
“Many areas in the upper reaches are inaccessible in winter. Most Israelis who visit the state head straight to Malana and Kasol and so do Germans,” said an officer.
While the NCB and the state police have data on the growing menace, they do little about it. For cannabis grows wild in the hills and has social acceptance as ‘Shiva's jadi buti’. One senior IPS officer said there is a lack of coordination among the different agencies. “The Himachal police and NCB don’t work together. The NCB does not have the required manpower and our people at the lower level look the other way,” he said.
Once the elections are over, it will be back to square one, he added.
- Tosh-kutla regions
- Banjar Valley
- Sainj Valley
- Dider Jhamach
Number of arrests
- 2005: 245
- 2010: 600
- 2015: 628
- 2016: 700
100: Number of foreigners arrested in the last six years
40,000 acres: Extent of cannabis and cultivation in Kullu Valley