The lure of drugs and quick bucks also attracts foreigners to the largely unexplored areas of Himachal Pradesh where they have become part of unorganised drug cultivation
The inaccessible valleys and lofty mountains in the western Himalayas are happy hunting grounds for the cultivation of cannabis and opium, police records show. They are the country's biggest drug-producing areas with a considerable quantity finding its way to Europe.
The lure of drugs and quick bucks also attracts foreigners to the largely unexplored areas of Himachal Pradesh where they have become part of unorganised drug cultivation.
Police records show that there are 50,000 acres of cannabis under cultivation in the Kullu Valley alone.
In the past five years, 70 foreigners, mainly Britons, Israelis, Dutch, Germans, Japanese and Italians, have been arrested under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act.
Two foreigners, one Dutch and another Briton, were arrested on May 10 near Manali town for possessing the MDA synthetic drug.
Former Himachal Pradesh police chief I.D. Bhandari said "the biggest challenge" is the isolated, inaccessible pockets in Kullu, Mandi, Chamba, Shimla and Sirmaur districts, where there are vast tracts of opium and cannabis cultivation.
"The lure of cheap and quality cannabis draws hordes of foreigners. For the poor locals, it's the most lucrative crop. Despite the efforts of the government to curb its cultivation, more areas are coming under it every year," Bhandari told IANS.
According to him, 25 percent of Indian and foreign undertrials and convicts lodged in the state's jails are involved in narco crimes.
The Magic Valley in the upper reaches of Malana, some 50 km from Kullu town, is known for cultivating 'Malana Cream', a prized hashish that is a purified resinous extract of cannabis, in the West.
Bhandari, who retired last April, said a massive crop of cannabis was destroyed by the police in the Magic Valley in 2010.
"Without the help of the local people, it's not possible to completely eradicate it," he added.
The involvement of foreigners in the drug trade in the Kullu-Manali area is nothing new. Some never return - they either disappear or marry local women, an official of the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) said.
"The police and law-enforcing agencies are not in a position to arrest such foreigners because of manpower shortage," the official told IANS on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the media.
Former NCB superintendent O.P. Sharma, who was posted in the state's drug-producing areas, told IANS: "The international drug mafia is providing high-yield variety cannabis seeds imported from Holland and Russia to the local farmers. Most of the cannabis derivatives are smuggled out to countries like Israel, Italy, Holland and other European countries."
Politicians see an economic boom in legalising cannabis cultivation as thousands of families depend on it. They are, however, against cannabis derivatives.
BJP Member of Parliament Virender Kashyap said legalised cultivation of opium is the best option to check its misuse.
"There is a huge demand for opium in the pharmaceutical industry. If our farmers are able to meet the market demand, what is wrong in it? " Kashyap asked while speaking to IANS, adding that he's against the making of hashish and its smuggling.
According to him, some states like Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh have allowed selective cultivation of opium, which has greatly helped to strengthen the rural economy.
Echoing similar views, four-time MP Maheshwar Singh, a BJP rebel who is now Himachal Lokhit Party legislator from Kullu, said cannabis has been grown in the valley for ages.
"The extract of cannabis is the staple diet in every household. Thousands of villagers whose livelihood relies on cannabis farming will bloom with its legalisation," Maheshwar Singh told IANS.