Midnight drama in ganja plantation

Sri Lanka – Hambegamuwa and Thanamalwila located in the Uva province have been a safe haven for Ganja (Cannabis Sativa) growers for several decades due to its jungle terrain infested with wild elephants, buffaloes and wildboar. The area borders the Southern province. Only a handful of farmers till the land in the state forest reserves illicitly to grow cannabis that bring them a substantial profit than any other crop. But in recent years, wealthy businessmen from the deep south have shown a keen interest in cannabis cultivation as it has brought them enormous profit. Ganja is a drug much sought after by addicts more than heroin as it is readily available in provincial towns and in the Western province. Owing to its soaring demand, wealthy businessmen have began providing financing to farmers to cultivate ganja in vast swaths of land in state forest reserves not accessible to law enforcement officers. However, it is the businessmen who take the lion’s share of the profits once the plantations are harvested. According to police sources, half the share of profit is taken away by the businessmen while the balance is distributed among farmers. Businessmen spend nearly Rs five lakhs to cultivate five acres with ganja but post harvest profits exceed more than Rs 60 lakhs. Enormous profits from the sale of ganja have motivated businessmen from the South to engage in the unlawful trade, police said. A fortnight ago, OIC of the Walana Vice Squad at Panadura, Inspector Duminda Balasuriya received a tip-off from an informant that a businessman of Hambegamuwa was making preparations to sell a large stockpile of dried ganja leaves following a bumper harvest at Thanamalwila. The informant said he too had been contacted by the businessman to work in the ganja plantation. However when the information was conveyed to Director, Walana Vice Squad, SP Palitha Fernando he referred it to DIG Staff at Police Headquarters Mahesh Samaradivakara seeking approval for a raid.

Following the approval by the IGP, N.K. Ilangakoon, OIC Walana Vice Squad detailed two squads comprising 22 policemen for a raid on the Hambegamuwa ganja plantation. Two teams headed by the OIC Walana Vice Squad along with two Sub Inspectors left Panadura on June 15 night for Hambegamuwa, Thanamalwila. The raiding party was provided with accurate information by the informant on the exact location of the Hambegamuwa ganja plantation. The informant said ten people were involved in packing up dried ganja leaves while others were engaged in up rooting plants in the adjacent plantation. However, he cautioned the policemen that two men armed with shot guns were seen lurking around the ganja plantation to prevent any intruders. He further told the OIC that the armed men had been deployed by a wealthy businessman from Embilipitiya to prevent any intrusions into the land. But the most daunting task the police faced was to avoid the risk of confronting wild beasts such as buffaloes, bears, leopards, wildboar and elephants that roam in the jungle. The policemen had to trudge through the Udawalwe National Park in the dead of night to arrive at the ganja plantation at Hambegamua -Thanamalvila. The second hurdle the policemen faced was to avoid trap guns set up in the plantation to kill and maim intruders. They were locally manufactured muzzle loading shot guns. The third and the most difficult risk factor was to disarm and overpower the armed men and to seize their weapons. Despite the impending risks, the policemen ventured into the jungle in the dead of night to avoid being spotted by farmers who worked in the plantation. “The moment they spot strangers in the forest reserve they communicate with each other via mobile phones to indicate the police presence in the jungle.

However, by 1 a.m. on June 16, twenty-two police officers from the Walana Vice Squad led by Inspector Duminda Balasuriya entered the Udawalawe National Park without any hassle with the help of the informant to swoop on the ganja plantation. Strict instructions were given to policemen not to flash their torches as it would signal their presence. Instead only one policeman was permitted to do so in an emergency. “The slightest disturbance in the jungle would alarm the farmers to flee from the area or to attack the intruders,” police said. While traversing through the Aldol Forest Reserve the informant told policemen that a number of cattle in the jungle have been deprived of water and are struggling for survival. It was because the farmers have diverted water to the ganja plantations. Policemen finally reached the Hambegamuwa plantation before dawn. At the break of dawn they split into several groups to cover the entire plantation to apprehend the suspects. When the policemen stealthily slipped into the plantation in search of farmers they came across lush ganja plantation in a two acre block. The police also came across eight suspects hiding in a hut. Two suspects had in their possession two locally made shotguns with cartridges. One suspect escaped by fleeing into the jungle after dropping his mobile phone on the ground. The next morning police searched the plantation and took into custody dried ganja leaves weighing 250 kilograms. The policemen destroyed the ganja plants in the two acre plot. They also found a stockpile of dry rations adequate for more than two months.” Police learnt that the man who escaped was a close friend of the wealthy businessman who financed the ganja cultivation.

The businessman owns a fleet of buses and is the proprietor of a tourist hotel in the Embilipitiya area. He also owns a luxury Prado vehicle for his private use. “There are several cases pending against him before courts,” a senior police officer said. Walana Vice Squad is making an efort to arrest the businessman and the man who fled from the scene. The five suspects were produced at Hanbegamuwa Police. The total value of the seized ganja haul has been estimated at Rs 1 million. The Police have arrested five suspects and are on the look out for the businessman and the suspect who fled the scene. When the case was taken up before the Wellawaya Magistrate/District Judge M.A.A. Anawaratne on June 28, OIC, Inspector Duminda Balasuriya of the Walana Vice Squad filed a further report requesting court to order the mobile company to furnish a detailed report regarding the telephone numbers left behind by the suspect who escaped while the raid was in progress. The court while ordering the mobile company to furnish details of telephone numbers ordered the Vice Squad to arrest the suspect who escaped and also to investigate the involvement of the millionaire businessman.

The case will be taken up again on July 12.

via : Sunday Observer

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