Opium Free Chatra
The Chief Minister of Jharkhand, Hemant Soren visited Chorkari to inaugurate the newly built powergrid substation, he also unveiled a one of kind initiated by the Chatra district administration. Covered in dense jungles, the district was increasingly getting prone to opium cultivation and processing activities over the past few years. Even a more potent and refined opium derivative like brown sugar were increasingly getting intercepted by the local police. To overcome this challenge the local administration chose not only to equip themselves with modern equipments but with local cooperation. "Opium-free Chatra" , a massive awareness campaign was designed focusing not only on the physical impacts of consuming opium and its derivatives but also its overall ill-impact on a social level. Since, the districts main challenge was the production of opioids and not its consumption, the campaign also tried to warn everyone directly or indirectly involved in the business of the administrations improved capabilities with the acquisition of new drone cameras, along with the extreme legal recourses available within the NDPS Act.
Sharing the stage with the CM were, Labour Minister Satyanand Bhogta, Chatra MP Sunil Kumar Singh, Barhi MLA Umashankar Prasad Akela, Simariya MLA Kishun Kumar Das, Badkagaon MLA Amba Prasad who all supported the CM in the unveiling of the campaign by displaying a poster each for the audience members. Pranav Pratap Singh, the founding director of Matraa Consultants, an organisation appointed as knowledge partner for the campaign by the district administration suggests there were three major causes of Chatra becoming a hotspot for Opium Cultivation- the first being its dense forest cover. With over 50% land under forest it is too easy for people to find land for cultivation which is both not privately owned and inaccessible. Therefore, making it very tough for the administration to find these cultivation patches and since the land involved is not privately owned it makes arrests almost an impossibility. Apart from destroying the cultivation, the NDPS act allows one way of executing punitive action under the circumstances, which is to arrest the Mukhiya of Panchayat land under use for narcotic activities; and we have tried to increase the awareness about this provision to increase accountability. Other major reason is proximity to an important and busy National Highway and the final complimenting factor is proximity to the state border. While designing the campaign we had to be very sensitive to the fact that the locals are neither addicted to the product nor are they the main benefactors of the business. The entire show is run from outside the state and the locals are merely victims of exploitation. The fight therefore, was to be fought with the support of the locals and not against them.
In addition to the awareness campaign the district administration took mammoth efforts to make alternate livelihood opportunities available to the people, lest financial difficulties prevented them from making the right choices. These official figures do verify the success of this campaign- as against the 170 arrests made under the NDPS Act in 2020, there were 300 people arrested in 2021 ultimately declining to merely 76 arrests in 2022 (Upto 31st June). From intercepting 316 Kg opium in 2020 to 204 in 2021 the number again fell sharply to only 34 Kgs in 2022 (upto 31st June). Most significantly, the interception of 1.31 Kg Brown Sugar in 2020 was dwarfed by 6.56 Kg intercepted in 2021 only to fall sharply to mere 4.28 gm in 2022 (Upto 31st June). While it is clear that in their fight against this unforgiving business of drugs, the local administration has achieved a fair amount of success and public cooperation, they must continue the good work, in order to get rid of the problem in toto.