Himansu Shekhar Rout

Famous for its rich biodiversity, Similipal Sanctuary in Odisha’s Mayurbhanj district is back in the news for the wrong reasons. 

An unheard-of fact that it has allegedly become a hub of opium poppy farming came to the fore after joint teams of Forest, Excise, and Police officials destroyed opium poppy plantations worth Rs 20 crore spread in acres of woodland in the core areas of the sanctuary in the last two months.

As per reports, opium poppy farming has been going on in the sanctuary over the years while locals have been under the impression that they are growing poppy seeds. It is suspected that there are some other remote areas where such illegal farming might be thriving unnoticed.

Law enforcement authorities and people are really bewildered over how long this cultivation has been going on and who is behind this. How such illegal activities could go unnoticed for so long? 

In the name of poppy seeds, the mafia had allegedly raised opium poppy plantations at Kukurabhuka and Bakua villages in the core area of the sanctuary. Forest, Excise and Police officials had not got an inkling of the illegal farming till recently. Farming is highly lucrative due to the high demand for opium.  

Opium mafia finding sanctuary in Odisha's Similipal?Opium poppy plants in Similipal

Sources also said that there are several other places in the core and buffer areas like Budhabalanga, Bagdega, Balarampur, Benipur, Sahuda, Bandirabasa, Phulabadi, Jalagada and Lembhugada, where opium poppy is being grown extensively.     

Locals are unaware of the fact that the plants are not poppy seed plants. 

Lanka Alda, a resident of Bankua said, "We know they are the plants of poppy seeds meant for consumption. People of Jajaguda have cultivated it.” 

However, Subhakant Sahu a resident of Gurugudia made a serious allegation against the Forest Department saying, "We have been seeing this cultivation for the last four years. It is the Forest officials who brought people from Jharkhand and raised the plants from which opium is produced.” 

On March 10, a major raid was conducted by a joint squad of the Forest, Excise, and Police officials on opium plantations at Bakua and Kukurabhuka. Over 5.25 lakh plants of opium poppy were destroyed. The plants were approximately valued at Rs 10.66 crore. On the same day, the team destroyed 3.85 lakh plants at Jenabil, Khejuri, and Jajagada under the Jashipur range. The plants were valued at Rs 7.70 crore. On February 24, a squad had destroyed 26 lakh opium plants in the core area. 

Now question arises as to how such illegal farming has been allowed to happen for so many years. What is surprising is that despite raids, none of the Mafia behind this illegal farming has been caught so far.

Jashipur IIC Sanjukta Maharik said, "Anyone, maybe from outside, might have grown the plants. Maybe, people of Similipal are doing it."
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Nikesh Kumar, ACF (Jashipur range) of Similipal said, "Some people from outside must be imparting training to the people to raise the plants and encouraging them to carry out this farming. The portion of the plant that produces opium is taken away. The people are falling into their traps.” 

RCCF Prakash Chand Gogineni said, "This thing is done in villages. If our staff informs us about the farming, we inform the Excise officials.”

  • Reported by:
  • MANIK Lal PANI , Deepak Mahanta