Villagers in Malkangiri district stage protest seeking implementation of Government welfare programmes in their locality.

Villagers in Odisha’s Malkangiri district took out a strange protest rally to get their grievance heard.

Also read: Over 3 tonnes of ganja seized on single day in Odisha

Despite knowing well that they could be penalised under stringent provisions of the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, for growing cannabis, villagers came out in the open to put conditions that they would stop cultivating the illicit crop if all Government welfare programmes were implemented in their locality.

For giving up the cultivation, about 10,000 residents of 35 villages of Ralegada gram panchayats assembled at Dhuliput to put forth their 19-point demand on Monday.

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“We are not getting actual price for our agricultural produce. Most of the villagers of Ralegada and other neighbouring gram panchayats depend on cannabis cultivation. The money earned from cannabis cultivation helps us send our wards to distant places for education,” Kamulu Hantal, a resident of Ralegada, said.

“We are informed that the Government is out to destroy all hemp plants. This will snatch a robust source of income. We urge the Government to facilitate marketing for our agricultural produce. We will not stop growing cannabis cultivation if our demand is not met,” he said.

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Another villager, Narayan Hantal of Dhuliput, said, “we have been growing cannabis knowing well that it is illegal. We did not have any option as there were no takers of our agricultural produces.”

The agitating villagers demanded inclusion of all households under the National Food Security Act and the Prime Minister Awas Yojna, settlement of land under the Forest Right Act and minimum support price for their agricultural produce.

These villages are situated inside Swabhiman Anchal, formerly Cut-Off area which was until recently bastion of outlawed CPI (Maoist). The area used to be covered by water from three sides and dense forest from another side. The boat was only way of communication to nine panchayats of Swabhiman Anchal. However, after construction of the Gurupriya Bridge, the Government has begun laying roads. Now, majority of the villages can be accessed by roads.

Block Development Officer of Chitrakonda Rahul Mandol said, “we are aware of cultivation of ganja by villagers in Swabhiman Area. However, we have been reaching out to villages with alternative crops such as turmeric, banana and even mushroom. The Horticulture Department is promoting vegetables in a big way inside the Swabhiman Anchal.” Mr. Mandol said there was truth in the allegation that subsidised foodgrains were not reaching villagers. “We make sure that rice reaches every household,” he said.

Taking advantage of the remoteness and lack of presence of security personnel, villagers had been growing cannabis which was fetching them good return.

Massive crackdown

Villagers hit the street in wake of massive crackdown launched by Malkangiri police during the past fortnight.

In a joint raid conducted by Chitrakonda Police team along with Excise Department on Monday, about 1,27,500 illegal hemp plants were destroyed. It was cultivated on 85 acres in the hilly areas villages of Rekhapali, Kamarguda and Palaspadar under Badpadar.

During the past 10 days, the Malkangiri police have so for destroyed 18,04,000 hemp plants most of them in the Chitrakonda area. The market value of the destroyed crop is around ₹180 crore.

Odisha is dubbed as the ground zero of ganja cultivation. The police personnel have been on their toes in tracking huge volume of ganja being smuggled out from the State to different parts of the country.

The ganja seizure in Odisha has grown by six times in past nine years. In 2013, a total 241 quintals were seized from smugglers. In 2021, the State police have already achieved a record haul of 1,504 quintals by October. Last year, 1,384 quintals were seized.

Odisha appeared to be way ahead of other States in cultivation of the illicit crop. The neighbouring Andhra Pradesh comes second with seizure of 978 quintals in 2020.