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Nepal cannabis farming goes unchecked

KATHMANDU, June 6 – Though cannabis farming was banned in Nepal in 1976, its illegal farming is still rampant. Almost every day there are reports of police seizing cannabis being smuggled to India.

According to police, in the last one week alone around 200 quintals of cannabis was seized in Bara and Parsa districts. In the last four months, police have seized 7656 kilograms of cannabis across the country.

During the same period, police destroyed cannabis farmed in

around 62 hectares of land mainly in the Tarai. According to police records, in 1991 cannabis being grown in 1,400 hectares of land was destroyed, the most in one single year.

Even the 1,400 hectares is just the tip of the iceberg. “Cannabis is being farmed in as much as 90 times more than this area,” said Deputy Superintendent of Police Dibash Raj Udhas at the Narcotic Drug Control Law Enforcement Unit (NDCLWU).

“During the insurgency, we saw a slight decline in cannabis farming as security network was strong but in the past two to three years, the farming has increased in a rapid pace,” added Udhas. Political instability and impunity are reasons Udhas attributes for the ever- increasing illegal farming of cannabis.

“Even if we intend to destroy the produce in these areas, we need a huge number of personnel and bigger budget,” added Udhas.

Last fiscal, the NDCLWU at the Home Ministry had allocated Rs 50,000 and Rs 25,000 to Parsa and Bara districts, which is just a drop in the ocean, to curb cannabis farming, which is widespread in Saptari, Siraha and Mahottari districts as well.

“We have directed the local administration to destroy such farms but it has not been as effective,” conceded Shankar Koirala, joint secretary at the home ministry. “If there is demand from the local administration for more budget to control cannabis farming, we initiate the process to provide them the money.”

Farmers are interested in cannabis farming because it fetches a hefty price compared to other produce. It fetches around 60-80 times more than paddy or wheat. One kilogram of cannabis is sold at around Rs 2000-3000, said Udhas.

Someone found engaged in cultivation of cannabis can be slapped up to three years of jail term and imposed a fine of Rs 25,000. However, there are few cases of conviction because of political interference, authorities said.

According to Koirala, public participation is imperative if cannabis farming is to be combated successfully.

Around 341,751 hectares of land is cropped area in Nepal for grains — paddy, maize, wheat, barley and millet and 414,304 hectares of land is used for cash crop.

“Lands in the Tarai that are most fertile are being used for cannabis farming instead of grains or cash crop and this practice is causing food insecurity,” said Hari Dahal, spokesperson at the Ministry of Agriculture.