Hemp, a hope or 'threat' in Himachal
Shimla: Three days back, when Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur presented his budget for year 2021-22 in the assembly, he made a significant announcement to permit commercial cultivation of hemp in order to create new investment and employment opportunities in HImachal Pradesh had a surprise and also a worry.
Two days before his announcement, the Chief Minister had replied to a debate initiated by a BJP MLA–Ramesh Dhawala, a former minister in the House on the same issue. Dhawala backed by some Congress MLAs made a fervent plea to the government for allowing "regulated" cultivation of hemp /cannabis as had been permitted by many states because of its medicinal value.
Thus, in order to reach a decision, the Chief Minister has certainly got convinced about legalising the hemp –a plant grown naturally in the hills and used for making rope and rough cloth in the rural areas.
Even the neighbouring state of Uttrakhand had taken a lead to allow cultivation of the hemp for medicinal use and has rolled out a policy. Madhya Pradesh and UP also have framed a policy on hemp cultivation.
The Himachal Pradesh High Court, three years, back had recommended to the state government to examine possibilities of framing a policy for commercial hemp cultivation for the benefit of the locals.
"From long ago, practitioners of the Ayurvedic line of medicine used hemp for treating arthritis, asthma, warts, cough, and several other health conditions," says Sohan Thakur, a retired medical lab assistant at Banjar (Kullu).
Chief Minister, who himself hails from Seraj, a remote mountain belt of Mandi, bordering Kullu, says hemp had traditionally been used to make footwear (pullas), ropes, mats, food items.
"We used to prepare a dish from cannabis seeds which helped keep us warm and energetic during winters," he recalled.
The quality of hemp in Himachal Pradesh has been found very good in India. Its seeds also are useful to make natural paints, ink and biofuel
Some Self-help groups and NGOs working in Kullu have already started training women to create some of the best end-products using hemp fibre and other materials to earn livelihoods.
Dhawala admits "As more than 80 pc of the population depend on agriculture, animal husbandry, and other allied means of sustenance, hemp can be a good means."
The state government ,in its draft policy paper, is also looking at scope of creating jobs and enhancing rural livelihood means in some districts like Kullu, Mandi and Chamba.
Sunder Thakur, a Congress MLA from Kullu, says "there have been abundant use of the hemp as food, medicine, religious ceremonies, customs, and households. I wonder why this plant has become only a source of Charas etc. There are non-narcotic usages. It's biggest source of earning for the women who make handicraft products."
Yet, the only fears remain about misuse by those engaged in the drug trafficking and try to make easy money resorting to illegal means. Lot of foreigners staying in Kullu-Manali used to provide hybrid seeds to the farmers to grow cannabis for extracting charas and marijuana from its dry leaves.
For years, the Himachal Pradesh government used its energy and resources to fight the menace of cannabis grown clandestinely in the inaccessible mountain valleys of Kullu –a district having become an infamous hub for charas– one of finest brand of "Malana cream".