World's oldest opium factory at Ghazipur, India that once financed the British Raj - 23 interesting facts

Govt. Opium factory, Ghazipur India. Bihar Times

 When British East India company became well established in the Indian subcontinent as a proxy ruler of the British crown, they kept their eyes wide open to get into lucrative business. They were already in cotton and textiles, tea plantations, etc., in the midst of their land-grabbing spree. The British economy which was in bad shape in the 1600s (GDP was less than1%) gradually showing upward mobility, In the 1600s Indian economy was doing fine with a GDP of 24% (China's GDP was around 30%). With continuous exploitation by the British, the Indian economy declined drastically because of  coercive and biased British trade policy with respect to Indian companies - mostly cottage industries.  

Gazipur Dt.(formerly united Province, India)

Ghazipur opium factory.

Since the EIC needed gold in their export dealing, they wanted to export something that would improve their gold reserve and get good mark-up. The choice fell on opium production and their target was China where people were  already using opium as a sign of status. In 1757 the monopoly of Poppy cultivation had passed into the hands of East India Company and the Company later started its trade in Opium, Indigo, Kewra and Floriculture, especially Roses. Once the British saw bright prospect of making a bundle in this unsavory opium trade, they started sending Opium to Calcutta port by river transportation from Ghazipur and from there it was exported to China. Later they began to dump opium in the harbors of China against the wish of Chinese rulers  and this later culminated in opium wars.  Literally Britain decimated China with enormous quantity  of opium produced from Ghazipur. Believe it or not, this dirty  trade yielded the British Company about two millions  pounds yearly which eventually financed the British Raj in India.

Important facts about the opiumfactory at Ghazipur:

01. The opium factory located in the town of Ghazipur, Utter Pradesh, during the colonial period, was the  first one in India and was the main source of opium production in India. 

02. It is now known as the Opium Factory Ghazipur or  more formally, the Government Opium and Alkaloid Works.
Opium war British imperialism. The Victorian Web

03. It is believed to be the largest legitimate opium  factory in the country and  world. The Ghazipur factory began life as the Benaras Opium Agency, an entity of the East India Company, in 1820. Later the factory was in operation by the British during the First and Second Opium Wars with China.


04. Though the  factory came up  in 1820 the British had been in opium trading in this area before. The opium processed at Ghazipur was sent to Calcutta (now known as Kolkata) for auction, then shipped to the south China coast and smuggled into the country via the port of Canton (now known as Guangzhou.
05. Many of us may not be aware of the historical fact that  it was Ghazipur opium factory which gave the financial muscle to the  British Raj in India as the single largest opium producers in the world, and more startlingly it continues to be  so. By 1830 Britain was importing 18,956 chests of opium to China from India. One chest was 140 pounds so that means 2,653,840 pounds - a whooping sum!!

06. The British empire's economy improved a lot and it's wealth increased manifold  by way of opium export to China, making gullible Chinese nation  addicted to opium. In those days, opium was combined with tobacco and smoked. One hit was approximately 200 milligrams of opium. There are 453592 milligrams in a pound, therefore one pound of opium represented 2,267 ‘hits’ of opium.

Chinese addicts. The McClaughry's Blog -WordPress.comCj

07. By the same token, the British  forced the Indian farmers to cultivate opium on their lands,  exploited their  labor and damaged their lands. After certain periods of  poppy plants, the land will become useless.
08. The historical old factory  was a major producer of raw opium extracts from poppies till 1943. The factory also produces  nowadays many alkaloids,  whose production  first began  during  WWII.  During the Second World War when the soldiers needed life-saving drugs like morphine, an Alkaloid factory became a necessity.

09. The factory  is functioning over a land covering 43 acres and much of its buildings date back to colonial days. 

10. Red brick was widely used for construction in the colonial time. The factory is across the banks of river Ganges from the main city of Ghazipur  and is surrounded by high walls topped with barbed wire. 
The  products are transported  with heavy security guards to  Mumbai or New Delhi for further export. The factory is highly guarded by the security officers and the  public has no access to the factory. 

11. The other interesting fact is this factory, since its inception 1820, has been making excellent profit and has never seen the red ink. This is not true of Alkaloid Division started by the government later. 

12. In the factory's vicinity, there  is a temple  dedicated to Baba Shyam, besides a Mazar, both  of them have been there long before the factory. Of interest to the visitors is the presence of a solar clock, installed by the British opium agent Hopkins Esor from 1911 to 1913.

13. Rudyard Kipling, famous jungle novelist, after his visit to the factory at Ghazipur  in 1888, published a description of its workings in "The Pioneer" dated 16 April 1888. (The text, "In an Opium Factory" is freely available from Adelaide University's ebook library).

14. Presently, its total output has to be decided by the board and is  controlled legally under Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substance Act and Rules (1985) Govt. of India. It is under the administration of the Ministry of Finance, overseen by a committee and a Chief Controller. 

15. The factory which has a total work force of about 900 , is a major and important contributor to the global pharmaceutical industry related to preparation of  certain psychedelic  medicine. 

16. In the recent past, the total  opium export from the  Ghazipur factory to the USA and Europe was around 360 tons  and at one time it was around 600 tons.

17. Though the cultivation of Opium poppy (Papaver Somnigerum) has come down drastically in   Uttar Pradesh but it still cultivated  by farmers of Rajasthan  (Kota and Bhilwara) and Madhya Pradesh

18. The Ghazipur factory produced three  kinds of Opium : The Provision Opium, the Excise Opium and Medical Opium. Now, they make one more kind, based on its  purity value. 

19. With its 12% morphine content The Indian licit Opium is considered as the purest form of Opium in the world  with 12% morphine content. Obviously, it has  huge demand in overseas  countries.

20. With cheaper extraction methods Australia and Turkey are flooding the legal opium market with cheap opium. 

21. The problem of junkie monkeys has not yet been properly addressed. Junkie monkeys have been here for generations and are part and parcel of the factory. They savour poppy stuff kept for drying in the yard.  According to the factory manager  'The addiction is passed on from parent to child and they can't leave the area because they need the opium.' The elderly monkeys are too lethargic to look for food because they are often found sedated and emaciated

22. In the recent past the country's biggest and oldest opium factory was shut down for over a month for failing to comply with effluent discharge standards  and directions to install an online effluent and emission monitoring system. Though it is temporary, for the first time, the machines stopped working in this factory. 

23. The Neemuch factory, yet another British legacy of opium production,  at Neemuch in Madhya Pradesh set up in 1933, is a modern one but the Ghazipur factory still is the biggest and largest not only in Asia but also in the world. The Nimach, also known as Neemuch opium factory is known to have the largest opium receptacle in the world, resembling a large backyard swimming pool. It holds 450 tons of opium.  These two factories specialize in  opium production and  extraction of related alkaloids  such as Codeine phosphates, Morphine salts, Dionine, Morphine Hydrochloride, Thebaine, and more. It is the country's largest producer of opium-related products. Opium related products are smuggled into the USA via  Afghanistan.

(It may be of interest to you to read "Sea of Poppies" by celebrated novelist Amitav Ghosh. In this fiction  he deals with the British opium trade in India and Ghosh's story is based on his research of the Ghazipur factory).