Opium cultivators, concentrated in Neemuch and Mandsaur districts on Madhya Pradesh’s northwestern border with Rajasthan, are up in arms against imports of Turkish white poppy seeds known as postadana or khus khus. India is the world’s single legal producer of raw opium in the form of gum. Approximately 50,000 farmers in 22 districts of MP, Rajasthan and UP raise the crop under licence from the Narcotics Commissioner of India in Gwalior.

The gum is used by pharmaceutical companies to produce drugs such as morphine, codeine and thebaine and, by-product khus khus is used in food. During a brief ban on imports imposed by the Allahabad High Court in May, prices of khus khus rose from Rs. 300 per kilo to Rs. 800. It’s then when the farmer realised the real value of his crop. Now that imports have resumed, cultivators are holding a series of meetings to launch an agitation against the union government.

“Khus Khus from Turkey costs around Rs. 190 after taxes. We can’t produce it for less than Rs. 300. Yet, Turkish khus khus is being dumped on us by a cartel of importers in Delhi who wield undue influence in the commerce ministry,” M K Garg, an opium cultivator in Neemuch told The Hindu.

Data from the Toprak Mahsulleri Ofisi (TMO) or the Turkish Grain Board show that the country produced 13,300 tonnes of white poppy seeds in 2013, 7,000 tonnes of which was consumed within the Turkey. Setting aside less than 1000 tonnes for sowing and calculating wastage at 5 per cent, there should not more than 5,000 tonnes available for export. Yet, in 2011-12 India imported 23,578 tonnes of khus khus from Turkey.

In a public interest litigation in Allahabad High Court last year, the plaintiff Ayurveda Sewashram Kalyan Samiti claimed that this was from illegal cultivation of poppy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Trade sources reveal that illegal suppliers are able to produce khus khus at such a low rate because their profits come from selling opium as a recreational drug.

“It is smuggled as bird feed to the Turkish Port of Mersin, which is a free trade zone, via Karachi harbour or through Iran. This is then imported to India legally. Thus, we indirectly fund insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan,” said Surendra Sethi of the Anti-Drug Movement in Neemuch. He added that this route was common knowledge in khus khus trade circles.

Virendra Borana, the secretary of the MP Sarpanch Evam Up Sarpanch Mahasangh said that Indian cultivators are marginal farmers who cannot afford storage facilities. “Importers in Delhi store the seeds and bring the price down forcing us to sell fast at the rates they command. We have written about this cartel to everybody from the local MLAs to the Union Finance Ministry,” he claimed.

Mandsaur MP Meenakshi Natarajan told reporters last week that she had met officials of the Commerce and Finance ministries and the government will take measures in the interest of the farmers. The Allahabad High Court in its verdict on November 29 last year asked the Central Bureau of Narcotics (CBN) in Gwalior and field formations of Customs to ensure that seed from countries not designated by the Director General of Foreign Trade are not imported.

A CBN source explained that imports are threatening the monopoly of producers. He said, “Domestic demand - which is varies between 23,000 and 25,000 tonnes - for the khus khus is much higher than total production, which does not exceed 5,000 tonnes. Hence import is necessary. Whether or not this is illegal is always monitored.”