How a derelict 200-year-old opium factory symbolises Ghazipur’s industrial decline

The plight of the factory mirrors the economic struggles that have become a central issue in the Lok Sabha election battle in the region.

Published : May 29, 2024 13:32 IST - 4 MINS READ

The opium factory in Ghazipur

The opium factory in Ghazipur | Photo Credit: Anand Mishra

India’s first opium processing factory, set up 200 years ago in Ghazipur district, Uttar Pradesh (UP) is now a thing of the past. There was a time, recalls Rudra Narayan Tiwari, a former journalist-turned-taxi-driver from Tiwaripur when the factory, ‘Govt Opium and Alkaloid Works’, dried poppy cultivated locally in the State in towns such as Zamania, Mainpuri and Noorpur, for trade and export. Opium, processed here, was carried to China, Japan and the US.

Later, the factory manufactured small quantities of morphine and codeine, mainly from adulterated opium and its washings. During WWII, the demand for opium alkaloids spurred the establishment of an indigenously designed alkaloid plant in Ghazipur in 1942 and an opium factory in Neemuch city in 1943.

Author Amitav Ghosh’s novel ‘Sea of Poppies’ touches upon the lush poppy fields along the Ganges in Ghazipur and the pitiable working condition of Indians who worked for the British East India Company. Today, opium poppy cultivation is prohibited in India, except under a license issued by the Central Bureau of Narcotics. India is the only country authorised by the United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (1961) to produce gum opium.

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However, the factory in Ghazipur still manufactures analgesics and antitussives, codeine, morphine and noscapine, but the production has nose-dived after a ban on the export of opium in the ‘80s. Ghazipur’s residents recall that until the 80s it was easier to get a license to cultivate poppy in the district but then opium trafficking kicked in, along with drug addiction, and licenses were almost frozen. Says a former employee of the factory: “The production target, which, until a few years ago, used to be around 200 to 300 tonnes, has now come down to just 80 tonnes. In the past it has even crossed many thousand tonnes when we used to export opium.” Parallelly, staff strength reduced from 560 five years ago to 225 now.

Languishing industries

This factory’s decline is symbolic of the death of industries in the Ghazipur. The sugar mill in Nandganj, as well as the cotton thread factory in Kasimabad have also closed down. The perfume industry in Saidpur, the weaving industry of Bahadurpur and Jangipur are holding on tenuously. Residents rue the lack of employment opportunities in the region, where the politics-crime nexus has hogged headlines.

Asked about the languishing opium factory, its ripple effect and unemployment in the region, former Ghazipur MP and seven-time MLA Omprakash Singh from Samajwadi Party (SP) told Frontline: “You should ask Manoj Sinha, who was Union Minister, what he did to revive the opium factory. Earlier, indigo cultivation used to also take place here and there was an indigo factory in Gahmar. Manoj ji only dabbled in Hindu-Muslim politics. Whatever development happened here was done by SP.”

Also Read | Dalits rally behind Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, but will she garner Muslim votes?

Mafia don-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari’s brother Afzal Ansari, a two term Lok Sabha MP from the seat and a five term MLA from Mohammadabad, is the SP’s candidate this Lok Sabha election. He is up against BJP’s Paras Nath, a protege of Sinha. Ansari, who had won from Ghazipur Lok Sabha seat in 2019 for the second time, is banking on the sympathy factor after his brother’s death. Mukhtar Ansari, who was lodged at Banda jail, died of a cardiac arrest after being brought in a hospital. His family members alleged he was poisoned.

Making ends meet

Addressing a rally in Ghazipur, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav on Monday said there is no prosperity and development in Ghazipur even though the place is close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha seat, Varanasi. The Bahujan Samaj Party this time fielded Umesh Singh, who has a Masters in Law from Banaras Hindu University.

Shubham Gupta, who runs a mobile shop in the town says he will vote on the issue of development. “Price rise is peaking, there are no jobs. The poor cannot live with just 5 kg food grains.” He, however, laments that most votes are cast in Ghazipur on the basis of caste and religion, not development. A youth from Lanka, Afzal, says, “for us the election is about eking out a livelihood and making ends meet every day.”

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