COTTON, TEA, AND OPIUM
The opium belt of India is about 600 miles long and 180 miles wide, lying just above a line drawn from Bombay to Calcutta. The total area cultivated with poppies will average 575,000 acres. The crop is grown in a few months in the summer, so that the land can produce another crop of corn or wheat during the rest of the year. About 1,475,000 people are engaged in the cultivation of the poppy and about 6,000 in the manufacture of the drug. The area is regulated by the government commissioners. The smallest was in 1892, when only 454,243 acres were planted, and the maximum was reached in 1900, when 627,311 acres were planted. In the latter year the government adopted 625,000 acres as the standard area, and 48,000 chests as the standard quantity to be produced in British india. Hereafter these figures will not be exceeded. The largest amount ever produced was in 1872, when the total quantity manufactured in British India was 61,536 chests of 140 pounds average weight. The lowest amount during the last thirty-five years was in 1894, when only 37,539 chests were produced. In addition to this from 20,000 to 30,000 chests are produced in the native states.
The annual average value of the crop for the last twenty years has been about $60,000,000 in American money, the annual revenue has been about $24,000,000, and the officials say that this is a moderate estimate of the sum which the reformers ask the government of India to sacrifice by suppressing the trade. In addition to this the growers receive about $5,500,000 for opium "trash," poppy seeds, oil and other by-products which are perfectly free from opium. The "trash" is made of stalks and leaves and is used at the factories for packing purposes; the seeds of the poppy are eaten raw and parched, are ground for a condiment in the preparation of food, and oil is produced from them for table, lubricating and illuminating purposes, and for making soaps, paints, pomades and other toilet articles. Oil cakes made from the fiber of the seeds after the oil has been expressed are excellent food for cattle, being rich in nitrogen, and the young seedlings, which are removed at the first weeding of the crop, are sold in the markets for salad and are very popular with the lower classes.
No person can cultivate poppies in India without a license from the government, and no person can sell his product to any other than government agents, who ship it to the official factories at Patna and Ghazipur, down the River Ganges a little below Benares. Any violation of the regulations concerning the cultivation of the poppy, the manufacture, transport, possession, import or export, sale or use of opium, is punished by heavy penalties, both fine and imprisonment. The government regulates the extent of cultivation according to the state of the market and the stock of opium on hand. It pays an average of $1 a pound for the raw opium, and wherever necessary the opium commissioners are authorized to advance small sums to cultivators to enable them to pay the expense of the crop. These advances are deducted from the amount due when the opium is delivered. The yield, taking the country together, will average about twelve and a half pounds, or about twelve dollars per acre, not including the by-products.
The raw opium arrives at the factory in big earthen jars in the form of a paste, each jar containing about 87-1/2 pounds. It is carefully tested for quality and purity and attempts at adulteration are severely punished. The grower is paid cash by the government agents. The jars, having been emptied into large vats, are carefully scraped and then smashed so as to prevent scavengers from obtaining opium from them, and there is a mountain of potsherds on the river bank beside the factory.
Each vat contains about 20,000 pounds of opium, lying six or eight inches deep, and about the consistency of ordinary paste. Hundreds of coolies are employed to mix it by trampling it with their bare feet. The work is severe upon the muscles of the legs and the tramplers have to be relieved every half hour. Three gangs are generally kept at work, resting one hour and working half an hour. Ropes are stretched for them to take hold of. After the stuff is thoroughly mixed it is made up into cakes by men and women, who wrap it in what is known as opium "trash," pack it in boxes and seal them hermetically for export. Each cake weighs about ten pounds, is about the size of a croquet ball, and is worth from ten to fifteen dollars, according to its purity under assay.
The largest part of the product is shipped to China, but a certain number of chests are retained for sale to licensed dealers in different provinces by the excise department. In 1904 there were 8,730 licensed shops, generally distributed throughout the entire empire. But it is claimed by Lord Curzon that the average number of consumers is only about two in every thousand of the population.
The revenue from licenses is very large. No dealer is permitted to sell more than three tolas (about one and one-eighth ounces) to any person, and no opium can be consumed upon the premises of the dealer. Private smoking clubs and public opium dens were forbidden in 1891, but the strict enforcement of the law has been considered inexpedient for many reasons, chief of which is that less opium is consumed when it is smoked in these places than when it is used privately in the form of pills, which are more common in India than elsewhere. Frequent investigation has demonstrated that opium consumers are more apt to use it to excess when it is taken in private than when it is taken in company, and there are innumerable regulations for the government of smoking-rooms and clubs and for the restriction and discouragement of the habit. The amount consumed in India is about 871,820 pounds annually. The amount exported will average 9,800,000 pounds.