Drug business not newto the Visakha Agency

Drugs appear to be the main ingredient in any armed conflict. The Taliban have opium and heroin to fund their show, the rebels in Colombia run a number of cartels dealing mainly in cocaine, and in the Visakha Agency which forms part of the Andhra Odisha Border area, the banned CPI (Maoist) has links with ganja smuggling.

The drug business in the Visakha Agency, which has earned notoriety of being the ganja capital, not only aids in funding the movement of the ultras, but also plays a key role in the entire economy of the region. Addiction is used as a tool to retain cadre base.

From the mid 1800s to the early 1900s, the Agency was the hub for opium trade with Gudem Kotha Veedhi or GK Veedhi being the nerve centre. The sale of opium was regulated by the State, under British rule, through traders/contractors.

Unlike ganja which is now grown in the hills, opium was imported from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan via Rajahmundry.

Govt. monopoly

According to the Gazetteer and the book ‘Rebellious Hillmen: The Gudem-Rampa Rising – 1839–1924,’ written by historian David Arnold, opium trade in the Agency was a government monopoly, sold through licensed vendors till about 1884. But from that year, the monopoly shifted to a Rajasthan-based firm by name Hemraj Ramlal.

The profits were so huge that in the first year itself, the then government demanded a fee of ₹ 6,000. And by 1892, the fee rose to ₹ 22,225.

The sale and consumption of opium grew fast, and by 1892 there were nine outlets in GK Veedhi alone, with each selling close to 292 pounds to 807 pounds (132 kg to 368 kg) per year. The government-appointed ‘muttadars’ and ‘mokshadars’ themselves controlled over 15 outlets.

The addiction grew large, and in a report, the then District Collector attributed it to the backwardness of the region.

Cause, catalyst for rebellion

The sale of opium, acted both as a cause for rebellion in the region and as well as a catalyst for the rebellion, said former head of the Department of Anthropology, Andhra University, P.D. Satyapal.

According to the professor, there were about five major fituris (rebellions) in the Visakha Agency from Rampa (Rampachodavaram) in East Godavari to GK Veedhi in Vizag district to Malkangiri in Odisha from 1839 to 1924.

Opium sellers from the plains became exploiters and the rebels cited this as one of the causes, but at the same time, many of the rebel warriors fought pitched battles under the influence of opium, he said.

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