Poppy fields in the lofty mountains and inaccessible valleys of the state are in full bloom - and therein lies the danger. They will soon be harvested and smuggled within and outside India in connivance with drug traffickers of the illegal opium trade.
Police officials say poppy fields, grown illegally in vast tracts of Kullu, Mandi and Chamba districts in the Himalayan foothills in northern India are ready for harvesting.
More than 6,000 acres in the state are estimated to be under poppy cultivation.
'The poppy crop is in full bloom. We have intensified the drive against drug traffickers and cultivators. We are trying to pin them down with the help of central agencies like the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB),' K.K. Indoria, the superintendent of police (Kullu), told IANS.
Over 60 percent of the poppy and cannabis produce from Himachal Pradesh is smuggled out to countries like Israel, Italy, Holland and other European countries. The remaining finds its way to Nepal, Goa, Punjab, Delhi and parts of the country.
The lure of drugs and quick bucks attracts foreigners too to the higher reaches and largely unexplored areas of the state where they have become part of poppy-growing and 'black gold' smuggling.
While in Kullu district poppy cultivation is mostly confined to the Malana, Bhelang, Melandar, Magic and Kutlah villages, in Chamba district bordering the Doda area of Jammu and Kashmir, it is done mainly in the remote areas of Kehar, Tissa and Bharmour.
Indoria said this month the poppy crop was destroyed in several areas of Kullu district.
'The problem is that most locals are cultivating poppy at isolated, inaccessible pockets. In most of the cases, the cultivation is done on forestland to evade legal action. After cultivation, they (the growers) visit the fields only when the crop is ready for harvesting. So it's difficult to nail the real culprit,' he added.
B.S. Negi, a Kullu farmer, said: 'It's poverty that is driving the locals to the cultivation of poppy. Moreover, a large number of foreigners settled in remote villages are providing high-yield cannabis and poppy seed varieties to farmers for planting. After harvesting, they buy the produce directly.'
Another farmer, Jaiparkash Thakur, said the government should legalise poppy plantation as certain pockets are ideal for its cultivation.
'Since poppy is used in medicine, the government should promote licensed poppy cultivation on the pattern of states like Uttarakhand,' he said.
O.P. Sharma, a former superintendent of the NCB, said: 'People involved in this clandestine trade are expanding their wings by luring more and more innocent villagers into this multibillion dollar trade.'
Sharma believes 'alternative farming is the only way of controlling poppy cultivation. How will they survive, otherwise?'
The volume of this clandestine narcotics trade can be gauged from the fact that during the past six years more than 2,000 kg of drugs were seized across the state. Since January, Kullu Police have registered 59 cases under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985.
French national Isabelle Normand was caught with cannabis near Kullu town in February this year. She was later deported from India.
Deputy Inspector General Anurag Garg said special police teams have been deployed to locate poppy plantations and destroy them before harvest.
The Kullu valley, known as the land of the gods, has gained notoriety as the drug haven in recent years. The 'Malana cream' variety of cannabis from the valley is considered one of the best in the international drug market.