Hundreds of people in a Mizoram district bordering Myanmar have taken to the streets to protest the transfer of an officer who had taken on areca nut smugglers.
The protest organised in the Champhai district by a coordination committee of local NGOs followed a warning from the Central Arecanut and Cocoa Marketing and Processing Cooperative (Campco) that illegal trade in areca nuts from Myanmar would harm farmers in India.
The Mizoram government had on January 13 transferred Mara C.T. Zuali, who had been cracking down on the areca nut cartel in her capacity as the Deputy Commissioner of the Champhai district. She was posted as an additional secretary in the Food, Civil Supplies and Consumer Affairs and the Planning and Programme Implementation departments in State capital Aizawl.
Her transfer order was issued a day after seven organisations of transporters and trade unions wrote to Chief Minister Zoramthanga, demanding her removal from the border district.
“Our protest should not be construed as anti-government. It is to let the government know that it should not punish an officer for taking action against smuggling,” a member of the NGO Coordination Committee said. While Ms. Zuali declined to comment, opposition parties have slammed the ruling Mizo National Front for sending the wrong signal. The Zoram People’s Movement said the State government ignored a December 2, 2021, order by the Ministry of Home Affairs to halt the transport of areca nuts smuggled in from Myanmar. Referring to Ms. Zuali’s transfer, State Congress president Lalsawta said, “The people of Mizoram think the situation in the State is very bad. I am afraid Mizoram may become like Mexico and Columbia where the land is ruled by criminals.”
Ms. Zuali had in December issued an order banning the smuggling or import of illegal trade items from Southeast Asian countries through the Champhai district. The items included areca nut. She followed this up by intercepting four trucks loaded with smuggled area nuts near the Myanmar border and allegedly burning 150 bags of the dried nuts.
An Aizawl-based transporter of areca nuts responded by registering a complaint against Ms. Zuali and her team of officials. A few days ago, Campco received a memorandum from Mizoram-based social and environment activist Vanramchhuangi highlighting the smuggling of dried areca nuts from Myanmar.
Campco president Kishore Kumar Kodgi subsequently wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi flagging the illegal areca nut trade in Mizoram. He also said there were about 40 illegal smuggling routes in the Champhai district alone. “Such illegal entry of areca nut into India through the north-eastern region may affect the domestic areca nut farming community,” he said, seeking immediate remedial action.