Odisha police trace illegal poppy farms deep within Similipal Tiger Reserve

In three back-to-back raids, police destroyed close to 7 lakh poppy plants worth ₹14 crore on 22 acres of land 

Updated - March 17, 2024 09:06 am IST

Published - March 17, 2024 02:40 am IST - BHUBANESWAR

The Mayurbhanj District police on Saturday set 1,54,980 poppy plants on fire.

The Mayurbhanj District police on Saturday set 1,54,980 poppy plants on fire. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Deep inside the dense forest lies an area off-limits to the general public, a landscape traversed by tigers and abundant wildlife. Yet, these natural barriers have failed to deter narcotics traffickers from initiating poppy cultivation in this improbable location.

The Similipal Tiger Reserve, one of the largest tracts of contiguous forest in the Odisha, has hit the headlines for wrong reasons again. This time, State police managed to track poppy cultivation taken up in 22 acres of land and destroy them in three back-to-back raids.

The Mayurbhanj District police on Saturday set 1,54,980 poppy plants on fire. The plantation was taken up on over five acres of land near Jojoguda and Phulbadi villages, inside the Similipal Tiger Reserve. The value of the destroyed opium plants is approximately ₹3.10 crore.

A week ago on March 10, about 5,25,000 opium plants worth ₹10.96 crore were traced near Bakua and Kukurbhuka inside the tiger reserve.  The district police had a moderate began by locating 13,000 poppy plants valuing to ₹26 lakhs on February 24.

Mayurbhanj district police said further operations to identify and destroy opium cultivation will be continued while investigation into the origins, end use, and transportation of opium is directly supervised by S. Susree, Mayurbhanj Superintendent of Police.

“Imagining the remote areas where poppy cultivation thrived proved challenging. Yet, relying on intelligence inputs, we ventured roughly 60 kilometres deep into the forest. There, we discovered extensive meadows along streams converted into poppy fields,” said Subrat Kumar, Sub-Divisional Police Officer, Jashipur.

Mr. Kumar said, “Intriguingly, criminals heavily invested in this illegal enterprise and installed modern irrigation systems akin to drip irrigation. Local tribals, who are unaware of the consequences, were hired for maintenance, harvesting, and transporting the illicit substance from the forest to exit points.”

“Some tribals have been trained about extraction of milky fluid from poppy seed pods and the same is sun-dried. As we initiated operations to destroy the opium plants, criminals managed to harvest in some other areas. Nevertheless, such illicit cultivation will not be tolerated within Similipal,” he said.

Tracing of poppy cultivation has added to the ignominy, Similipal Tiger Reserve suffered in wake of largescale poaching of elephants. In a series of hearing in 2022, the Orissa High Court had then expressed strongest displeasure over mismanagement of tiger reserve and failure to curb elephant poaching. The State Forest department them moved to form a joint task force to intensify patrolling inside Similipal.

Despite the deployment of three police platoons and scores of forest personnel, the clandestine poppy cultivation, initiated around December of the previous year, remained undetected until it was nearly ready for harvest.

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