Indian smugglers and their local contacts on either side of the international border used excavators to carve out a 10-km “jeepable road” in Myanmar for the ‘Dawn’ of a new drug route through Mizoram, officials said.
Dawn is the name of the nearest habitation from Lungkawlh, a village in central Mizoram’s Serchhip district situated near the border with Myanmar.
Sleuths of the State’s Excise and Narcotics Department discovered the track from the Tiau River – it marks Mizoram’s border with Myanmar – to Dawn after smugglers began using the route to avoid the ethnic conflict-scarred Manipur, considered a more strategic and convenient passage.
A couple of couriers caught by the State police carrying heroin and a bundle of 10 kg methamphetamine pills a few months ago confessed to members of the ring forcing the track through the hilly terrain with excavators.
The Tiau has ankle to knee-deep water for most part of the year and its rocky bed allows easy crossing. The river runs southward along the international edge of the Saitual district through Champhai, Serchhip, and Hnahthial district where it meets the Tuichang River and flows onward as the Chhimtuipui.
“Drug trafficking controlled largely by some people in (southern Assam’s) Karimganj district has always been a problem for Mizoram. But the volume of smuggling increased after Manipur started burning on May 3, disrupting the Moreh-Tamu route,” Peter Zohmingthanga, the Deputy Commissioner (Enforcement) of the Excise and Narcotics Department told The Hindu.
“Some 90% of the drugs that would have been smuggled in through Manipur during normal times find their way through the Zokhawthar area. Several agencies are intercepting consignments that find their way through Zokhawthar but the 10% being trafficked further south through Serchhip district from Dawn is a new worry because of remoteness and issues of accessibility,” he said.
The State’s Director-General of Police, Anil Shukla admitted Mizoram has become a major transit for narcotic substances from Myanmar to other parts of India.
While Tiddim in Myanmar’s Chin State feeds the narcotic substances to Zokhawthar, 234 km southeast of Mizoram’s capital Aizawl, Dawn – also in Chin State – is serviced from Thlantlang, the nearest urban centre across the border.
Enforcement officials said a police checkpoint set up at Lungkawlh has made the drug smugglers take a diversion from Lungkawlh-Dawn ‘road’ north to Sailulak in the Serchhip district. Another “stop-gap” route is from Dawn to Ngharchhip in the Hnahthial district south of Serchhip through Ralpel (Myanmar).
A series of seizures by the State agencies and the paramilitary Assam Rifles, authorised in March 2022 to seize and collect information under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act of 1985, have reportedly checked the inflow of drugs through Mizoram in the past couple of months.
“The terrain is tough and the Tiau is easy to cross at many stretches where it passes through hill-slope jungles on either side. We have caught several people, many of them [from] Myanmar, ferrying drugs in small and large quantities but many could be slipping through,” Jeevan Kumar, the officer in charge at the Zokhawthar police station said.
Zokhawthar, a border trade centre, is about 40 km from Champhai, the headquarters of the Champhai district. Both places are within the 16-km distance a Myanmar national is allowed to travel according to the free movement regime agreed upon by the two countries.
“The traffickers usually move at night or dawn through jungle tracks, often on Kenbos (Myanmar-made two-wheelers illegal in India but used within the FMR). On November 10, our teams seized 2.61 kg of heroin and cash totalling ₹19.52 crore from five Myanmar nationals in three different operations in Champhai district,” an Assam Rifles officer posted on the India-Myanmar border said.
From January to October 2023, the Assam Rifles recovered 18 weapons, contraband items worth ₹74.03 crore, and drugs worth ₹911.28 crore from 131 Indians and 58 Myanmar nationals.
Officials of the State agencies contest the worth of drugs “as heroin and methamphetamine pills are sold at 1-5% of the price they command in India’s metros.
“What is worrying is the spike in the smuggling of methamphetamine pills or crystal meth, increasingly popular among the youth as stimulants. From 9.108 kg between 2015 and 2018, the meth seizure from 2019 to 2022 jumped to 376.764 kg, which could be the tip of the iceberg,” an Excise and Narcotics official said.