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The Indian Budget 1996-97 The Indian Economy Overview

Legalized Opium Cultivation: Processing Opium

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

Photo Essay on Cultivation of Opium in India

Under the watchful eye of police and government officials, opium is collected, processed, graded and shipped out to buyers around the world.

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

Ghazipur Opium Processing Plant workers drying opium in pans, using age-old techniques.
In Ghazipur, the oldest opium processing factory in India, rows of barracks-like buildings stand behind high walls topped with barbed wire. Workers dripping sweat, carry the sacks of dried opium into dark, humid hangars.

Inside, shadowy figures hover around four swiming-pool sized tanks, capable of holding 65 tons of opium each. At the bottom of one of these stinking pits, workers, knee-deep in black sludge, are using their bare hands to load buckets, hauled up for drying in the hot sun.


Nimuch is the more modern of the two opium factories. Hundreds of drying pans are arrayed in the sun, stirred constantly to maintain consistency.
Armed with long-handled shovels, they stir the sticky substance until it has the consistence of putty. More than 800 workers tend the rows of drying vats. Each vat holds almost 40 kilos of opium. It take three to four weeks to dry the paste until it is 90% moisture free.

In another part of the factory, behind closed doors, factory chemists transform the "black gold" into its medicinal components. Opium has twenty-five elements, including morphine and codeine. Once refined, the various elements are sold to pharmaceutical companies. Most of companies that shop here are Indian, while big foreign drug manufacturers prefer to do their own distilling.


All packed up and ready to go! Shipment of processed opium being readied for the USA.
Hundreds of tons of opium are stocked here to cover the demand for the drug in years of poor harvest.

It takes a full day to pack a shipment of opium into special rail cars. The cases weighs 60 kilograms each and are loaded into the cars under armed surveillance. From here they will go to New Delhi and on to the United States, Japan, France and other opium-buying countries.

Before the journey begins, however, the workers have to push the rail cars to the rendezvous with the locomotive, two kilometers away. It is a security measure that pales in comparison to North American or European surveillance as the secret cargo travels to its final destination.


Signboard in foreground makes a profound statement: "Khatra" (Danger!). Rail bogies packed with opium, being manually shunted to rendezvous with train, bound for distant lands.


[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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