PALAKKAD: The Forest Department is in the final phase of its ambitious plan to root out ganja (Cannabis sativa) cultivation from the Attappady forests, the buffer zone of the ecologically sensitive Silent Valley National Park, by April.
The Attappady forests, the core area of the Nilgiri Biosphere, has become a major centre of ganja cultivation in the State during the last couple of years, replacing the traditional pockets of Idukki district.
Conservator of Forest, Eastern Circle, Nagesh Prabhu, says that 16 out of 21 tribal colonies in the Attappady range are notorious for ganja cultivation. The tribals, who are in abject poverty, are easily won over by the so called ganja mafia. They mostly work as labourers and transport agents.
He says the Forest Department in cooperation with the police, excise and revenue authorities and the anti-narcotic cells of the State and Central Governments has been engaged in continuous raids in Attappady during the last two years. The department has established anti-ganja squads, two new forest stations and two anti-ganja camp-sheds at Edavani and Melethudukki. It is planning to establish semi-permanent sheds at Thudukki, Galazi, Edavani, Anavai and Aralikonam, all main ganja-growing areas. Fourteen watchers, 10 of them local tribals, have been employed.
There is a plan to employ 50 tribals from the 21 tribal settlements as forest guards. The department has developed an effective information network and established a wireless station at Varadimala and a repeater station at Minnampara.
Steps have been taken to form Vana Samrakshana Samitis with the assistance of the Attappady Hill Area Development Society. Vacancies in the forest range have been filled and the department has now adequate manpower to deal with the situation. The department has recommended a special allowance of Rs.500 a month for staff working in the ganja areas.
A project for afforestation and regeneration of the lost forest cover, destroyed mostly by the forest mafia, has been launched.
The department has now proposed the bifurcation of the Attappady forest range into Mukkali and Pudur ranges for effective vigilance against the ganja mafia.
According to the Forest Department, “60 per cent of the Attappady forest range is sensitive to ganja.” During the last five years, ganja plants worth Rs.784 crores have been destroyed in Attappady. Ganja cultivation is so lucrative that it could fetch a return of Rs.10,000 a plant in the local market.
A mixture of dried leaves, buds, flowers and seeds of ganja are used to make marijuana and bhang. Concentrated resins from the buds are used to make hashish and charas.
Under the `Eradication of ganja from Attappady’ initiative launched last year, the authorities claim to have destroyed 80 per cent of the illegal cultivation. They hope to achieve 100 per cent target this month.
The ganja mafia, with money power and political connection, has razed down hundreds of acres of evergreen tropical forest in the Attappady Hills for illegal cultivation of the money-spinning plant