Alcohol may be out in the western Indian state of Gujarat - from where Mahatma Gandhi, the tireless prohibition crusader had hailed. But opium seems to be in some kind of favour with the government there.
Gujarat is the only state in the entire country where complete prohibition is in force. But the government there purchases raw opium and supplies it to the licensed shopkeepers in parts of north Gujarat and Saurashtra, bordering Rajasthan and Pakistan, respectively.
The provision finds mention in the 2008-09 Budget estimates of the Home department in the demand number 45. While a sum of Rs 15,000 was allocated for purchasing opium in 2007-08, for the commencing fiscal year, the allocation is Rs 20,000 — an increase of 33 per cent. The major head is identified as State Excise (Sector-A: General Services and sub-sector B: financial services).
The government officials maintain it is just like permits given for liquor despite prohibition. "It's purely for health reasons. Like alcohol is misused, so can this, but it has been in practice for decades," said a Home Department official, reports the Indian Express.
Shankar Chaudhary, a local legislator, claimed the practice was on decline, with his own efforts bearing fruits in this direction. "I run camps to get people off this practice. I had even sat on a fast to sensitise people in my area last year," he said.
The practice is prevalent in pockets of Banaskantha, Patan and Surendranagar districts. Kailashdan Gadhvi, an anti-addiction counsellor at Palanpur-based Navjivan Vyasan Mukti Hospital, gets cases from Deodhar, Bhabhar, Tharad, Vav and Dhanera regions, all bordering Rajasthan and Pakistan.
"Some of them are permit holders, but most are illegal addicts. While the permit holders get anything between 1 to 2 kg depending on their needs, illegally it is available in higher quantity, depending on how much one pays," he said.
"If they don't take their daily dose, it can be harmful to their routine, sometimes even causing illness," added Gadhvi.
Those addicted to it, crush the opium pod into powder and soak it in water, transferring its opium content to the liquid. After filtering the water, they drink it either early in the morning or late in the evening.