Visakhapatnam: Using drones, GPS and satellite images, the special task force comprising Armed Police, Revenue, Forest and few others, led by AP prohibition and excise wing resumed destruction of ganja plants in the remote areas of Vizag Agency and Andhra Odisha Border (AOB), which emerged as safe haven for ganja plantations.
Though the Integrated Tribal Development Agency (ITDA) has appealed to ganja growers, basically tribal farmers, to switch to alternative crops and also announced support from the government, a majority of farmers, who enjoy handsome returns from ganja cultivation, are refusing to change tacks.
Deputy Excise Commissioner, Vizag, T Srinivasa Rao said that they have destroyed ganja plantations in over 3,500 acres (worth over Rs 300 crore) by engaging workers and with the support of police and other departments in Vizag Agency in the current season.
The drive will continue till the cultivation is completely stopped in the tribal pockets, he said.
The tribal pockets in Visakhapatnam and East Godavari districts and AOB are home to cultivation of three varieties of cannabi-Raja Hamsa, Kala Pathri and Sheelavathi in and over 15,000 acres. Of them, Sheelavathi variety has high demand and the price of the variety has been increasing in the past few years.
The exercise to destroy ganja plantations began in September 2017, especially in Vizag and East Godavari districts and also along AOB.
However, K Surendra of CPM said that plantations are being destroyed only in villages close to the roads but the task force will not dare to touch the crop in the border areas where the presence of Maoists is more.
Its cultivation and smuggling has yielded good financial rewards for youth in the tribal pockets. With those earnings, they flaunt high-end mobile phones, bikes and also four-wheelers, said a senior CPI leader of Chintapalle.
The cannabis trade is pegged at Rs 15,000 crore per annum in AP region, and Vizag ganja is popular. The agency is the largest producer of cannabis in the country.
“We will utilize technology to identify the interior pockets, where ganja cultivation is rampant and deploy more armed forces to destroy over 10,000 acres of plantations in the coming days”, excise department officials added.