Rise of drug mafias: An impending challenge?

There are challenges galore for economic development of Manipur given the State’s poor score in terms of governance and the all pervading conflict situation. Poverty, backwardness, violence, ethnic polarisation, et al continue to be the hallmarks of this beautiful state called Manipur. When the State was mired by myriad issues and challenges some three/four decades back, extensive drug abuse painted a very grim future of this tiny State. Even as the Manipuri society somehow managed to free itself, to some extent, though not totally, from the menace of extensive drug abuse, smuggling of different types of narcotic and psychotropic drugs into and through the State continues to be a serious challenge even today.  Notwithstanding the Government’s war on drugs, the scale and scope of smuggling drugs seems to be expanding rapidly. Apart from being a convenient route for cross-border smuggling of drugs, the State is being slowly transformed as a grower and producer of narcotic drugs. It is now everybody’s knowledge including the Government that poppies are being planted on massive scale across several mountain ranges of the State. As if growing poppy is not enough, there have been several reports of law enforcing agencies busting clandestine drug manufacturing units in different parts of the State. No doubt, there are also reports of law enforcing agencies destroying poppy plantations from time to time. But unfortunately, this exercise of destroying poppy plantations is too little compared to the ever expanding scope of poppy plantation to give any positive result. What is even more disturbing and alarming is the establishment of narcotic and psychotropic drug manufacturing units within the State. The situation demands decisive action driven by the required dose of political will.
When one talks about cross-border smuggling of drugs, one place that unfailingly strikes one’s mind is Moreh. Of course, Moreh straddles a convenient route for drug smugglers but it also has its own geo-strategic as well as commercial importance. The border township of Moreh came to the limelight only with the inception of the much hyped India’s Look East Policy (now Act East Policy) in the early 90’s. Even though the geo-strategic importance of Manipur was registered in the conscience of New Delhi since the day of Indian independence but commercial viability of Moreh as a trade centre was acknowledged only when its ailing economy was forced to open to foreign capital and investment particularly to the thriving economies of South East Asia. Formal or legal trade between Myanmar and India through Moreh has literally failed to take off even after more than 20 years since it was opened.  Yet, cross-border smuggling of drugs has grown manifold, and informal trade is flourishing. In fact, Moreh’s official trade is only a small fraction of its large and flourishing informal trade which includes banned drugs and timber. Drug smuggling between Myanmar and Manipur (India) is a two-way traffic. While heroin and synthetic drugs are smuggled from Myanmar into the Indian side, chemicals like acetic anhydride and ephedrine required for converting raw opium into heroin go in the opposite direction. The volume is huge and the money involved is astronomical if the seizures of drugs on the Indian side are any indication. Even as the Government of India and the State Government have failed, at least until now, to invigorate and sustain formal border trade through Moreh, now rightly given the sobriquet Gateway to South East Asia, smugglers and big players have been fully exploiting the strategic location of Manipur and Moreh. Who knows if drug cartels are operating in Manipur? It cannot be ruled out totally given the high-profile and influential personalities arrested in the past five/six years with huge consignment of drugs. If drug cartels are really operating in Manipur, it is anybody’s guess, when would drug mafias rise their ugly heads in the society. Abuse of power by those occupying influential official positions has gone to the limits. These are some of the challenges rooted in the geographical location of Manipur which the authorities must overcome with firm determination.