Making Manipur drug-free, a tough call

Theoretically, the new Government has gone a step farther in its War on Drugs. The first Cabinet meeting of the new Government held on March 22 resolved to make Manipur drug-free and assign an officer of the rank of IGP as the head of Anti-Narcotics Task Force. It is rather ironical that amidst the State Cabinet’s bold decision to make Manipur drug-free, reports came from different parts of the State about seizure of huge quantities of drugs and narcotic substances worth crores of rupees. Taking serious note of the all pervasive disastrous impacts of drug abuse and smuggling of narcotic substances in/through the State, the preceding BJP-led Government headed by the incumbent Chief Minister launched the War on Drugs. But the war has not yielded any significant positive result so far. Nonetheless, it is heartening to note that the Government is determined to carry on and intensify the war. The Government and its agencies have already acknowledged large scale poppy plantation at many hill areas of the State, and it has already evolved into a serious socio-economic and political challenge. There were reports at regular intervals of law enforcing agencies destroying poppy plants. Sometime back, there was a report which said that most of the poppy plants destroyed by police and other law enforcing agencies had already borne fruits and the fruits had been harvested. If the particular report is true, then the whole exercise of destroying poppy plants is nothing but hogwash. In spite of the much hyped War on Drugs, the Government and its agencies have not been able to control or reduce poppy cultivation in the hill areas of the State.
There was another report which remarked, “Strangely, police hack down or destroy poppy plantations just a day or two after poppy flowers/fruits have been harvested and police never destroy poppy plants before the flowers/ fruits are harvested. Police never hack down poppy plants when they are not mature enough...” If this report is true, one would definitely like to ask whether the poppy farmers, chiefs of villages where poppy plantation is done, investors and law enforcing agencies have a tacit understanding. When poppy cultivation is widespread in the hill areas of the State, illicit drug trafficking through the State is only a natural corollary. Government agencies as well as NGOs, apart from hacking down large poppy plants, have been spreading awareness on the harmful effects of opium and heroin.  While these attempts deserve appreciation, a larger issue seems to be evading the Government, for example, is the Government in a position to provide alternatives to the labourers and cultivators alike, such as, making the lands permissible to cereal and vegetable plantation (infrastructure support and availability of seeds, etc). Successful fight against opium or for that matter poppy cultivation can be achieved, if the alternatives are provided first and bring the remote areas under the fold of development. In another word, tackling poppy cultivation and illicit drug trafficking demands a comprehensive, multi-pronged approach. Earlier, the Government talked about a pilot project which was basically about creating alternative sources of incomes for villagers who are engaged in poppy cultivation and it would be tailored in such a manner that it is emulated by one village after another. But it appears that the pilot project has been either abandoned or put in a deep freezer. At the same time, all arrested drug smugglers must be prosecuted swiftly and awarded exemplary punishment. But again, very few kingpins of drug smuggling rackets have been arrested or punished according to law even though there are reports of seizure of drugs almost every alternate day. The menace of drug abuse is often all pervasive and disastrous. Apart from draining the State’s economy, it can corrupt an entire generation and destroy the very soul and spirit of a nation.