Are Himalayan peaks falling prey to drug smugglers? (Lead)

August 27th, 2008 - 9:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Shimla, Aug 27 (IANS) The idyllic, pastoral setting of the Himalayan range in Himachal Pradesh, which draws an increasing number of backpackers, is now becoming a base for a multimillion dollar narcotics trade involving foreign settlers, local peddlers and international drug smugglers.Police officials say foreign smugglers, working in collusion with addicts, are virtually ruling the roost in Mandi, Kullu and Chamba districts that have a serious problem of drug cultivation, trafficking and use.

The conviction of two Italians - Anglo Falcone and Nobli Simone - along with two Indians under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act by a Mandi court Friday is proof that an international drug mafia has gained a foothold in the hill state, police officials said here.

Jagat Ram, the superintendent of police (Kullu), said: “Forty-eight people have been booked under the NDPS Act this year. Last year, 29 people had been booked.”

In the past 10 years, 208 foreigners have been arrested in the state and 757 cases registered under the NDPS Act. However, only 74 people have been convicted. Among the arrested foreigners are many Israelis, Italians, French and Japanese.

According to a police officer who did not want to be identified, a large number of foreigners settled in various villages in these districts have been actively involved in smuggling narcotics in connivance with local peddlers.

The foreigners were even providing high-yield variety cannabis seeds imported from Holland and Russia to farmers for planting in various high-altitude areas like Malana, Bhelang, Melandar, Magic and Kutlah in the Kullu valley as well as the Chauhar and Seraj valleys in Mandi district, the officer said.

In Chamba district, the plantation of cannabis is confined to remote areas of Kehar, Tissa and Bharmour.

Himachal Pradesh Director General of Police G.S. Gill told IANS: “We are aware of the problem and it has to be curbed.

“We’re launching a special month-long drive from Sep 1 in Kullu, Mandi and Chamba districts. This is the time the poppy crop is ready for harvest.”

Gill said special police teams would be deployed to locate cannabis and opium plantations and destroy them before the crop is harvested.

Additional Director General of Police D.S. Manhas told IANS: “During the drive we’re taking the help of 18 sniffer dogs to detect houses in villages where hashish and opium have been stored.”

According to estimates of India’s Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), more than 6,000 acres in the state is under cannabis cultivation.

Easy availability of cheap drugs in McLeodganj - the abode of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama - and its surrounding areas of Dharamkot, Naddi and Bhagsunag has turned the area into an addicts’ haven, say the police.

The demand for the cannabis cultivated in the Kullu valley has increased across the world, with Malana hashish adjudged the best at the Cannabis Cup organised in Amsterdam earlier this year.

A.P. Singh,a former superintendent of police in Kullu district, told IANS: The demand for the cannabis cultivated in the Kullu valley is high in Holland, where smoking hashish is legal.”

Malana, a village in the Kullu valley, has long been notorious for cultivation of high-quality cannabis there.

O.P. Sharma, a former superintendent of the NCB, said: “People involved in this clandestine trade are spreading their wings by luring more villagers into this multi-billion dollar trade. Alternative farming is the only way to control cannabis cultivation.”

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