Drug running continues unabated in Manipur

The State government fired five commandos in a recent case, but most perpetrators go unpunished.

Published : Feb 15, 2023 17:05 IST

Manipur police and Assam Rifles personnel destroyed some 80,000 poppy plants in a joint operation at Longpi in Noney district on January 21, 2023.

Manipur police and Assam Rifles personnel destroyed some 80,000 poppy plants in a joint operation at Longpi in Noney district on January 21, 2023. | Photo Credit: ANI

The war against drugs launched by the BJP-led coalition government in Manipur has run into rough weather, and the BJP and the Congress have started a blame game over the latest incident.

On January 16, 2023, a police commando team of Kakching district arrested five police commandos of the same district and recovered high-quality heroin weighing over 1.14 kg and thousands of “World is Yours” narcotic pills.

The five arrested commandos were in police uniform and were handling service guns. They had used a police vehicle to transport the drugs. The operation was quarterbacked by S. Vats, Kakching Superintendent of Police (SP). Thanking the police, Chief Minister N. Biren Singh announced the service termination of the five commandos.

However, the next day, a furious N. Biren Singh said that Congress leader Meghachandra Singh, MLA and Pradesh Congress Committee president, had gone to the SP’s office and that the SP had registered a case against him relating to unauthorised entry into his office and obstructing his work.

N. Biren Singh added: “The Congress leader also held a press conference without permission. Now the Congress youth wing has been instigated to launch a sit-in protest as a bargaining chip for dropping the FIR.”

However, Meghachandra Singh said: “I had gone to the office of Mr Vats to appreciate him in the arrest. However, I suggested he hand over the case to the CBI to ensure that the offenders are punished and do not escape scot-free. My security staff and police officials were witness to our meeting and cordial interaction.” He added that he did not invite the reporters but that they were already there to cover the arrests.

However, there is no report on the progress of a case relating to the recovery of opium worth over Rs.3 crore from the residence of a station house officer of the [Myanmar] border town of Moreh last year.

On the Congress’ charge of low number of disposals of drug-related cases, BJP spokesperson Johnson Elangbam said: “During the previous BJP rule in Manipur (2017-22), a total of 1,678 cases were registered and 2,100 persons were nabbed. These are much higher than those during Congress rule.”

Imphal Customs seized narcotic tablets and opium worth more than Rs.2.7 crore, in Imphal on February 1, 2023.

Imphal Customs seized narcotic tablets and opium worth more than Rs.2.7 crore, in Imphal on February 1, 2023. | Photo Credit: ANI

Major drug route

Manipur is adjacent to Myanmar, which is part of the “Golden Triangle” region—a hotbed of drug trafficking—and has been a major drug route to other States for decades.

In previous decades, marijuana and opium were the only drugs smuggled out of Manipur by uniformed Manipur Rifles personnel brandishing sophisticated automatic guns. The tarpaulin-covered trucks transporting the drugs would carry a sign saying they were carrying “military equipment”.

Initially, officials in Assam, West Bengal, and Bihar, did not suspect anything amiss. But soon they became inquisitive when the frequency of the trucks’ trips increased greatly. Some personnel were arrested in these States. However, there was no report of the personnel being punished. Now, other narcotic drugs, which are more expensive and highly addictive, have arrived in Manipur. They include heroin, brown sugar, prescription painkillers, cough syrups, and the “World is Yours” pills.

Manipur has legalised trade with Myanmar at Moreh. However, regular arrests of drug traffickers, with drugs valued at more than Rs.10 crore in each case, gives an idea of the size of the drug business originating in Manipur.

There have been several cases and arrests but most of the time no one is punished because the prosecution is unable to produce the seized drugs before court. A source said: “In one instance the seized drug had become sawdust. Some other drugs had become chalk powder and flour. The accused persons had to be released.”

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A defence wing public relations officer was nabbed at Pallel with narcotics worth over Rs.30 crore on February 24, 2013. Similarly, on June 20, 2018, Lhukhosei Zou, the then chairman of the Autonomous District Council, Chandel district, was nabbed from his official residence in Imphal and drugs worth about Rs.28 crore were seized. However, the court acquitted him and found two others guilty. The government did not go to a higher court against this ruling. Chief Minister N. Biren Singh, who also holds the Home portfolio, said: “Let us keep confidence in the judiciary.”

In 2018, a Myanmar national escaped from Manipur even after drugs worth over Rs.400 crore were seized from him.

It is well-known that the main perpetrators in the drug business are never brought to justice; the police only arrest the transporters, also known as drug mules.

N. Biren Singh said that vast areas in the mountains are used for cultivating poppy plants. He added that he met with village chiefs and gave them financial assistance liberally to encourage them to take up alternative cultivation. When they did not, the police began arresting them and the villagers started cutting down fully grown up poppy plants partially to secure the release of their chiefs.

The government has also purchased drones to spray poppy-killing chemicals, as suggested by L. Sushindro, a Minister.

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