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How to stop farmers from growing ganja? Telangana govt solution: Stop cash assistance

Official says govt contemplating making it mandatory for farmers to disclose what they’re growing to become beneficiaries under the popular Rythu Bandhu scheme, which is a brainchild of KCR.

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Hyderabad: The Telangana government is cracking down on farmers who are cultivating cannabis plants (from which the psychoactive drug marijuana, also known as ‘weed’ or ‘ganja’, is derived) and has identified over a hundred such people, ThePrint has learnt.

These farmers have been dropped from the list of beneficiaries of the state’s popular cash assistance scheme for farmers ‘Rythu Bandhu’, and also booked under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.

According to a state agriculture department official, this is the first time farmers have been removed from the Rythu Bandhu beneficiaries’ list on such grounds. The farmers were also booked under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985. 

Telangana Chief Secretary Somesh Kumar had last week, after chairing a state-level narcotics coordination meeting, announced the state government’s decision to stop ‘Rythu Bandhu’ benefits to farmers caught cultivating cannabis. He further said that the move is part of a larger crackdown on ganja cultivation and usage in the state. 

State Director General of Police (DGP) M. Mahender Reddy, who also attended the meeting, said all identified accused will be booked under the Preventive Detention Act, 1950.

State Excise Commissioner Sarfaraz Ahmad told ThePrint that his teams identified 114 such farmers, who have been booked, and a list of their names have been sent to the revenue department for further action.

“The list of 114 farmers is from January 2021 to April 2022. These farmers are scattered across the state. There is no mass cultivation point, it is all very sporadic. Some of them were found to be cultivating around 50 cannabis plants and some had a good 100 plants or above. In some cases, we found that on the outer fields, they had paddy cultivation, and on the inner side of the field, they cultivated ganja in small amounts,” he added.

In some cases, farmers were caught on the basis of tip-offs received by the police. There have also been instances of local residents filing police complaints against those cultivating ganja. The district administration has been keeping an eye on such activities, a source from the excise department told ThePrint.

While some of these farmers were caught in Narayankhed town of Sangareddy, a district adjoining Hyderabad, a few others were from Kamareddy, another neighbouring district of the state capital, said excise commissioner Ahmad. Others are from Jayashankar Bhupalpally district and Nalgonda district’s Chityala area, he added.

“These districts are not too far from Hyderabad. We have also identified some of them (farmers) in districts towards the northwest side of Telangana. This exercise was taken up after the chief minister set his focus on curbing ganja menace in the state last year. Following his instructions, we decided to eliminate it from the grassroots level,” said Ahmad.

Member of Legislative Council from the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi and chairman of Rythu Bandhu Samithi Palla Rajeshwar Reddy told ThePrint that identification of farmers growing cannabis will now be a “continuous exercise”.

“Instructions have been given to departments (excise, police) that they will have to keep sending such lists at regular intervals and action will be taken immediately,” he added.

Also Read: Manipur govt endorsed firm’s bid to transport, use cannabis seeds, flowers & leaves, says report

Rythu Bandhu scheme, brainchild of KCR

The Rythu Bandhu scheme, the brainchild of Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhara Rao, is a direct benefit transfer scheme to farmers which was launched in 2018 before that year’s state assembly polls.

Under the scheme, the government provides financial assistance to only land-owning farmers — especially small and marginal farmers — under certain terms and conditions for the kharif and rabi crop seasons. Farmers get Rs 5,000 per acre for each season. 

The Telangana government has so far spent about Rs 50,000 crore on the scheme. According to government records, around 66 lakh farmers are Rythu Bandhu beneficiaries.

“The scheme is applicable irrespective of any cultivation, and proof is not necessary.  Earlier the government was issuing Rythu Bandhu for all types of lands. However, recently, it has withdrawn the scheme for non-cultivable (barren) lands,” Hyderabad-based Right to Information (RTI) activist Robin Zaccheus told ThePrint. 

An official from the state’s Rythu Bandhu department, not wanting to be named, said is still unclear for how long these 114 farmers were beneficiaries of the scheme: “We are yet to get into those details.”

“Also, for anyone to avail Rythu Bandhu, all they need to show is proof of agricultural land owned by them, what kind of crops are they cultivating is not mandatory. So that might also be how these farmers were benefitting from the scheme,” he added.

Govt may make it mandatory for farmers to disclose what they’re growing

Another official from the state agriculture department, not wanting to be named, said that the state government is contemplating making it mandatory for farmers to disclose which crops they are cultivating, in order to become Rythu Bandhu beneficiaries. But these discussions are still in early stages, he added.

“This is the first time beneficiaries have been removed from the list. The department has been contemplating it since last year, there have been several rounds of meetings too. The first list was sent to us in March (January 2021 to January 2022). Another updated list was sent to us in May which had 114 farmers. District collectors had also written to us highlighting this issue,” the official added.

Kiran Vissa, co-founder of Rythu Swarajya Vedika, a farmers’ organisation that works with small- and mid-level farmers in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, was of the opinion that cannabis cultivation is not rampant, and very scattered.

“During our field visits we came across two such cases in Mahabubnagar district. In one case, the (cannabis) plants were just found in the bunds (boundaries) of the fields and not inside, and the farmer claimed he had no idea about how those plants came up on his bunds. In another case, the farmer was growing three such plants in his house. So there is no blanket reason for why they are cultivating, nor can it be said that it is rampant at this point of time,” Vissa told ThePrint.

(Edited by Gitanjali Das)

Also Read: 2 cannabis compounds can stop Covid, says US natural products study. Other scientists sceptical


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