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The Indian Budget 1996-97 The Indian Economy Overview

OPIUM FOR THE MASSES

[Opium cultivation in India] [Related Pages: 1 2 3 4

Photo Essay on Cultivation of Opium in India

In India, thousands of small land-owners are licenced to grow opium. From the seeds to the refined paste and medicinal alkaloids, production is controlled by Central Narcotics Bureau, a branch of the Ministry of Finance.

All photographs are Copyright Pablo Bartholomew, and may NOT be used in any context or form whatsoever without express written permission.

Early morning... Group of farmers collect raw opium resin.

The land is dry and unyielding under a blazing sun. For generations people have worked these fields with their eyes turned skyward, waiting for the rains. Their crop is a fragile one, sensitive to the whims of unpredictable weather. It must be harvested carefully and quickly.

Welcome to the land of opium. Tucked away in the remote interiors of North India, acres of poppy fields produce tons of precious opium. It is all perfectly legal and strictly regulated by the government.

Every year, agricultural families, licensed to grow the precious poppy plant on 1/10th of

Freshly lanced poppy pods oozing raw opium resin.
a hectare of their small land holdings. In exchange for the license, the growers must harvest a minimum of 4.5 kilograms of opium paste a year.

Inevitably some of the opium grown here ends up on the black market or is saved for the villagers personal use. Opium has always been used as a medicine, to cure diarrhea and calm colicky babies. However the goverment tries to ensure that as little as possible of the opium from these fields escapes its watchful eye.

From the sun-drenched poppy fields of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, the opium, or Black Gold, is shipped to major pharmaceutical companies around the world. Before it reaches its final destination, however, the opium journeys across the parched plains on a trail beaten by the British, who enslaved China with Indian opium.

Today, under the surveillance of Central Narcotics Bureau officials, some 1350 tons of the sticky narcotic are collected from the farmers and shipped to one of two huge processing plants: Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh and Neemuch in Madhya Pradesh.


Central Bureau of Narcotics official checking opium quality.
At the factories, hundreds of workers, tend row upon row of open air vats filled with black opium paste. For weeks they stir and turn the tar-like substance, drying it in the hot sun until it looses most of its moisture.

The process could be done more quickly and efficiently by machines, but, as mangers admit, mechanization of the government-run factories would cost hundreds of jobs.

Once the opium has lost 90 percent of its moisture it is repacked and ready for export. A small portion is refined chemically in house and sold to Indian drug manufacturers.

Most of the raw opium paste produced in Ghazipur and Neemuch is exported to the United States, the UK, France and Japan, generating an estimated Rs 300 million ($ 8-9 million) per year - a tidy profit for India's foreign-exchange starved coffers.

[Opium cultivation in India] [Related Pages: 1 2 3 4

Pablo Bartholomew is an Indian photojournalist of world renown, with many awards to his credit, including the World Press Photo Award. His work is regularly seen in Time, NewsWeek, Business Week, Forbes and the National Geographic Magazine.
He is a member of the Indian Economy Overview editorial panel, and Director of Photography for the site.


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