Faced with an alarming rise in cannabis cultivation in the State, the Odisha Government is toying with the idea of aerial spray to destroy the contraband in districts where it is grown over virtually inaccessible tracts.
In the financial year 2012-13, the State agencies had destroyed hemp cultivation in 1,305 acres. The year before, it was destroyed in 1,575 acres.
However, the menace is bigger than it appears. In Angul district alone, the extent of cultivation is touted to be in staggering 15,000 acres, whereas in Deogarh, the contraband is grown in about 5,000 acres.
Besides these two districts, the cannabis cultivation is centred in six other districts __ Sambalpur, Boudh, Kandhamal, Rayagada, Gajapati and Malkangiri.
All the eight districts are Naxal-dominated giving ample indications of the Maoists throwing their weight behind cultivation of hemp from which they mobilise funds for their operation.
To give a push to the enforcement measures, the the Crime Branch of Odisha Police on Friday convened a meeting of Superintendents of Police of eight districts, Excise Department top brass and Narcotics Control Bureau in Cuttack where a multi-disciplinary approach to contain the problem was chalked out.
Sources said the target is to mount the enforcement in a manner that at least 3,000 acres of hemp cultivation can be destroyed during the current year in eight districts. Three pockets have been identified as focus regions which include Riamal, Naktideul and Chhendipada-Handapa triangle in Deogarh-Sambalpur-Angul districts.
The second region is spread over Daringibadi, Padampur-Gudari and R Udaygiri-Mohana of Kandhamal-Rayagada and Gajapati districts, while the third region is Malkangiri.
The Excise department and the Crime Branch are also aware of the support coming in from West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh for the cultivation. “This menace needs to be tackled as an organised crime given the massive scale in which it is grown and smuggled,” an Excise official said.
As part of the counter-strategy, the Crime Branch and the Excise department have decided to seek help from the Revenue department to identify the land where cannabis is being grown so that cases can be registered against the owners which will act as deterrents. Multi-agency squads will be created in each district for this purpose.
In fact, the Excise department, led by Principal Secretary, Excise, S P Thakur, has pledged support for funding logistics required for operations, while Director General of Police Prakash Mishra assured that forces needed during the raids will be provided to the SPs.
“This is for the first time that such a meeting has been held to thrash out a coordinated, multi-agency strategy to take on the cannabis cultivation in the State. The SPs and the ASPs dealt at length about the operational difficulties in countering the problem,” Additional Director-General of Police, Crime Branch, Bijay Kumar Sharma said.
Most of the cannabis cultivation activities take place during October-November and then during January-February.