IMPHAL, Aug 8 (PTI): Drugs worth more than Rs 1,610 crore have been seized by the Assam Rifles between July 2022 and July this year in Manipur, according to data provided by the paramilitary force.
In the financial years 2021-22 and 2020-21, it seized drugs worth Rs 850 crore and Rs 1,200 crore, respectively.
However, official sources said the Assam Rifles — a border guarding force — primary mandate or task is not drug law enforcement.
“That is the responsibility of the NCB (Narcotics Control Bureau) and the state police. However, the routes, conduits, and funding for terrorism, weapons, and drugs are common at times. Hence, in the process of catching terrorists, the Assam Rifles ends up catching drug smugglers. In all such cases, they are handed over to police,” a source in the security establishment said.
“The deployment posture along the Indo-Myanmar border has been strengthened ever since the crisis began in May. Ethnic violence, while necessitating a focus on hinterland security, has also led to an increase in security forces, which, in some way, would have countered drug trafficking as a second-order effect,” the source said.
More than 160 people have lost their lives and several hundreds have been injured since the ethnic clashes broke out in the northeastern state on May 3, after a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ was organised in the hill districts to protest against the Meitei community’s demand for Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
Meiteis account for about 53 per cent of Manipur’s population and live mostly in the Imphal Valley. Tribals – Nagas and Kukis – constitute little over 40 per cent and reside in the hill districts.
During 2022-23, the Manipur Police registered 620 cases under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, leading to 724 arrests, of which 474 people are in judicial custody and 250 were released on bail, according to the state government.
Since 2017, 2,518 people have been arrested in drug-related cases, according to Manipur Police records. Of them, 873 belong to the Kuki-Chin community and 381 to the Meitei community, and 1,083 are Muslims among others, the records showed.
Law enforcement agencies have suggested that the “drug value chain” should be dismantled at all levels to end the drug
menace in the state.
“Completion of the border fence should be a priority. Drug processing and transportation along foot tracks across the Myanmar border are known menaces,” an official said.
A senior official in the external affairs ministry told PTI that border fencing stands as a pilot project. “We do not have any specific time-line for the completion of border fencing. While Manipur, as a state, calls for such fencing, it is crucial to recognise that reevaluating the ‘Free Movement Regime’ is not feasible,” the official said.
The Free Movement Regime (FMR) permits tribes residing along either side of the border to journey up to 16 kilometers within the other country’s territory, without requiring a visa.
Official sources said the stress should be on expansion of “administration and infrastructure to reach out to remote areas so that horticulture and agriculture can be better connected to consumers, and thus, reliance on poppy cultivation can be reduced”.
The Coordinating Committee on Manipur Integrity (COCOMI), an umbrella body of several Imphal-based civil society organisations, has demanded that the “central government should enforce detection and detention of illegal migrants and a war should be declared on drugs”.
The COCOMI has been alleging that many Kukis are illegal migrants from northwestern Myanmar where racially similar Chins live and that many Kuki villagers cultivate poppies in hillside farms. These allegations have as yet not been proven.
Ginza Vualzong, media and publicity secretary, Indigenous Tribal Leaders Forum, said, “The Kuki community, like many others in Manipur, has been linked to poppy cultivation. However, it is crucial to recognise that only a segment of the community is involved in this activity, and not everyone can be branded as ‘narco-terrorists’.”
“Those engaged in poppy cultivation often do so out of necessity and as a means of livelihood, rather than with malicious intent. It is essential to provide alternative
employment opportunities to address the root causes of this issue and empower communities to pursue sustainable livelihoods,” he said.