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Friday, September 17, 2021

War on drugs in the Northeast

Assam and Manipur have become guardians against narco traffic throughout the Northeast. Some can't stomach this success


Updated: September 9, 2021 6:54:54 pm
Ludhiana man dies of suspected drug overdose in hotel room, NRI arrestedToday, both Manipur and Assam have made a concerted push against all drugs. (Representational Image)

Written by Mmhonlumo Kikon

One parameter of success is how often your opponents are infuriated by it. It is disappointing to witness how some are resorting to the theatrics of diversion when cooperation is required, especially when the well-being of society and the lives of the youth are at stake.

The recent success I am referring to is that of the campaign against drugs by the governments of Assam and Manipur. For years, these two states have been a not-so-surreptitious route for narcotics’ distribution to the rest of India.

Today, both Manipur and Assam have made a concerted push against all drugs. There are drugs of all kinds — uppers, downers, relaxers. The traffickers deal in heroin, opium, methamphetamines, party drugs like ecstasy and cocaine, pain pills and cough syrup — all illegally. It is not surprising to find former Union Minister Jairam Ramesh uttering unfounded and serious allegations to discredit the success. What he forgets is that playing politics with peoples’ lives can have serious ramifications.

Social media has been abuzz with the success of Assam and Manipur in dealing with the drugs menace in recent days. This has obviously hurt the conscience of the Congress party. With a mandate to revive the decaying Congress organisation in Manipur, Jairam Ramesh has decided to play politics with the drugs trade.

Unable to digest the swift and effective actions of the state governments, Ramesh took a potshot at urea consumption by farmers in the hill regions of Manipur. He claimed that urea given to Manipur had been diverted to poppy farming. Firstly, the Congress leaders in New Delhi need to get rid of their imperialist mindset and consult their colleagues in Manipur. Secondly, this is an old and tired trope to divide Manipur society by making these accusations against one particular community. It creates suspicion and foments trouble.

Ramesh has claimed that because of poppy farming in the hill areas, Manipur is using double the amount of urea. Facts tell a different story. Ukhrul district, which is in the hill area of Manipur, has the third-highest cropping intensity in the state at 162.5 per cent. It has high yields in potato, sugarcane, oilseed, wheat and maize.

The Thadou Students Association in Manipur has issued a statement. They have pointed out that urea is supplied for paddy cultivation. Poppy is grown in a different season and cannot be stocked for so many months. Besides, urea is directly distributed by the deputy commissioners and agriculture officers of each district.

The Congress has forgotten that Manipur, like most states in the Northeast, is still a state in conflict — one that the Congress could not solve for seven decades. And in the shadow of the conflict that the Congress perpetuated, many such crimes took place, including poppy growing. Whitewashing its role by shifting the blame to the current regime will not change public opinion or the resolve of those that are now leading these states. Nor will it help to deny the change that has come.

Ramesh should start working on elections by contesting and organising at the district or village level to understand grass roots organisational politics and then climb up.

For decades, drug addiction has been a silent epidemic in almost all the Northeastern states. Drug users who inject heroin have also been susceptible to HIV and hepatitis. Health and harm reduction programmes have tried to minimise the effects of drug use and addiction. The Congress governments diverted lots of money to listless programmes without results and created a bureaucracy of foreign NGOs. But, the policing under past regimes was highly ineffective.

As soon as he assumed office, Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma announced a war against drugs. His announcement complemented the fight of CM Biren Singh’s government in neighbouring Manipur. The announcement was not a mere rollout of legislation or an election slogan, but a substantive one. They buffed up intelligence and detection. And the results started to pour in once they worked together to grab the drug traffickers in a choke-hold.

On September 2, the Guwahati Police busted drug traffickers with 205 soap cases stuffed with around 2.5 kg of heroin worth around Rs 17 crore. On August 28, Guwahati Police busted another cartel while it was shipping 1.4 kg of heroin worth about Rs 9 crore. August 26, Guwahati Police had caught a drug trafficker was caught with 8,500 Yaba (meth) tablets.

In Manipur, a police team kicked down the door of a drug lab and seized three bags of suspected brown sugar weighing 40 kg. After a large bust in Assam, the police of the two states collaborated and located the source of the drug traffickers to Bishnupur in Manipur. They were able to put away the kingpin.

It is only with heavy seizures that the big fish will be in the net. Some will run, but they will be chased, caught and prosecuted as per the law.

In the Congress-ruled states, like Punjab, crackdowns result in arresting a large number of drug users and addicts. A lot of the small-time drug peddlers are also those who sell to support their habit. This scratches only the surface of a big problem that society faces because of drug trafficking.

The solution is a crackdown on the big fish to stop the supply of illicit drugs and that is what both Assam and Manipur, which are on the smuggling route, are now doing. Every other day, you can see photos of drug dealers being caught. And these are not a few grams of brown sugar or a few boxes of pills. Active on social media, the respective police forces in Assam and Manipur are showcasing their busts with huge quantities of narcotics seized.

Both Himanta Biswa Sarma and Biren Singh have passed down the message that no corruption and no incompetence will be tolerated as far as drugs are concerned. Only when there is a political leadership that relentlessly cracks down, the police find the confidence to perform at their optimal efficiency. Confidential informants also come forward knowing that the system is straight and serious about cracking down.

Clearly, Ramesh has ground reports of the changes that have happened and has little to bank his campaign on. Lashing out at imaginary issues bears the hallmark of immaturity and does not provide any display of organisational competence.

The writer national spokesperson, BJP and MLA from Nagaland

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