Tuesday 5 March 2013

The world's largest opium factory

This is the real setting of  Amitav Ghosh’s 2008 novel, Sea of Poppies. The novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker award and won that year’s Vodofone Crossword Book Award for fiction. It also bagged the British Book Design and Production Award for 2008.
Apart from the novel’s setting, this place contributed to roughly 20 per cent of England’s revenue from India for close to one hundred years. All the stolen treasures, artifacts, gold, silver and other articles could not even form a dot on the vast revenue that the British managed to extract from this place.
It also led to the Opium wars between England with China and the result was there for all to see. After Independence, this revenue earning enterprise was taken over by the Government of India (GOI) and to this day the GOI lords over it.
Unfortunately, not many know about this enterprise and even Indians were unaware of its existence till the novel by Amitav Ghosh hit the stands. It was then that the world woke up to the startling fact that the world’s biggest opium factory was not in the countries comprising the Golden Triangle but in India.
More astonishingly, the largest opium factory in the world is run by none else but the India Government itself.
What is amazing is that this factory has now been in existence since the early 1800s and in its almost 200 years of existence it has consistently first enriched the coffers of the United Kingdom and after 1947 of India.
All though its existence, the opium factory has been a steady and increasing source of revenue. The factory is at Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh.
Coming back to the British and their opium trade, it was after the Battle of Plassey in 1757 that the East India Company began trading in opium. They found the trade to be an excellent revenue earner and slowly began perusing a policy of monopolising opium trade. This monopoly would include the production, preparation and export of opium.   
In 1773, the Bengal Government abolished the Opium Syndicate which was operating from Patna and gave the right to trade to itself. For the next fifty years, opium became the major source of revenue and export of the company from India. The trade steadily saw the rise of English economy while at the same time filling the lives of  millions of Chinese and thousands of Indians with opium.
When China banned import of opium, the company and British merchants and traders went about the sale both legally and illegally. The British merchants purchased Chinese tea in Canton and balanced it by selling opium at open auctions in Calcutta. The opium thus purchased would leave Calcutta in ships and clandestinely reach the Chinese coast.
Sensing the vast profits of such a trade, the company banned middlemen and Bengali merchants and entered into direct trade between opium growers and purchasers. The company also openly actively encouraged sale of opium to China. Exports to China grew from just 15 tons in 1730 to 75 tons by 1773. The opium was shipped to China in chests, with each chest containing 64 kilograms of opium.
The company then set up the opium factory at Ghazipur in 1820 to process, refine and package opium, which was mainly meant for the Chinese market.
The factory was the proverbial Alauddin’s cave for the British. It simply began giving he profits from the day it was set up and thus began enriching the British treasury.
The factory today is known as The Government Opium and Alkaloid Works and it is spread over 52 acres. It is on the banks of the Ganga and it must be one of the few factories in the world to have been making profits  every year ever since its inception.
The factory has a workforce of 900 people and it comes under the Department of Revenue in the Ministry of Finance.
While the Opium factory runs in two shifts, the Alkaloid workshop is a losing proposition. If the opium factory runs in two shifts - 8:30 a.,m, and 4:30 p.m., the Alkloid factory has only one shift.
Till1940, this factory was the only one in the British Empire to process opium extracts from raw stuffs and export it to China.
However, there was change in the priorities during the Second World War when the soldiers needed life-saving drugs like morphine. It was then that the Alkaloid factory was set up in the campus in 1943.
Today, the Alkaloid unit processes raw opium into alkaloids of pharmacopoeia grades to meet the domestic demands of all the major pharmaceutical companies in India.  It manufactures products such as Codeine phosphate, Codeine Sulphate, Morphine salts, Dionine IP, Nacopine B.P., morphine BPC, Morphine Hydrochloride, Thebaine Pure, IMO Powder, IMP cake, Cotarmine Chloride.
Interestingly, the Alkaloid unit is running in loss whereas the opium factory is still making huge profit every year. The total turnover of the Opium factory comes to about Rs 200 crores.
The factory exports opium to USA, Japan, France and Sri Lanka and Russia. Currently USA and Japan are the major importers of opium.
It is also here that the contraband opium seized by the police personnel are stored and there is a separate unit for such seized articles.
By the way, the purest form of opium in the world is made only here and nowhere else. This is so as the morphine content is 12 per cent.
The British found this factory and trade in opium so lucrative that they set up another factory in India in 1935. This is in Nimach in Madhya Pradesh. Nimach is an abbreviation of  North India Mounted Artillery and Cavalry Headquarters. It borders Rajasthan.

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