Manipur drug-makers prove elusive for police

In the second week of March, M. Pradip, Superintendent of Police of Thoubal district, Manipur, got an SMS on his mobile phone, tipping him off about a drug trafficker at Moijing village in the district. The man was allegedly manufacturing opium and heroin in an improvised mobile unit. The informer had switched off his phone when Mr. Pradip rang back, but the information appeared authentic.

A raid was immediately ordered. But the intelligence network of the drug traffickers, it turned out, was efficient too. They had time to flee, taking the drugs with them. The only things they could not cart away were sackfuls of opium, manufacturing equipment, utensils and chemicals such as ammonium chloride and lime.

“The lone person around was an aged and sick woman, who appeared disoriented,” Mr. Pradip told The Hindu .

It was the same story in subsequent raids as well. The villagers do not welcome police and security personnel in their areas. There have been instances when they destroyed Army jeeps or viciously attacked police personnel who went in search of drug pushers and other criminals.

Golden triangle

Manipur, which is contiguous with Myanmar and falls in the golden triangle, is a fertile ground for poppy cultivation. Farmers grow them in vast areas of the valley and the hills.

The occasional destruction of the verdant poppy plants has not impacted the thriving business. “The poppy-growing season does not clash with paddy crop. And the income from poppy is huge,” an anti-narcotics official say. “Anti-narcotics officials can do little, because the department is understaffed and officials have to work by the book. They cannot destroy the vast cultivations.”

Women bring in the stuff in sacks of vegetables, charcoal and other items. They sell the poppy fruits in the villages in Thoubal district.

EC warning

Ahead of the March elections in Manipur, the Election Commission of India had informed the government about the presence of mobile drug laboratories producing opium, brown sugar and heroin. But the kingpins, who allegedly get huge funding from drug barons across the country, are still at large.

Most of the villagers resent raids and see them as an anti-Muslim move. But officials suspect that some protesters backing stone-throwing and firings may actually be beneficiaries of the drug cartel. The possibility of moles in the force is not ruled out since drug traffickers always seem to be many steps ahead of the police.

Opium, brown sugar and heroin are smuggled out to many States. As thousands of vehicles ply daily along the highways passing through Manipur, it is easy to transport drug packets without being noticed.

Informed circles say the local drug production in Manipur has not affected drug smuggling from across the border. Huge quantities of prescription drugs are smuggled out for drug production. Some years ago, the police nabbed members of a gang engaged in such drug smuggling. The last catch was worth over Rs. 30 crore in the local market. One ranking Army officer and the son of a prominent politician were among those arrested. Huge consignments of prescription drugs were sent through post offices, air cargoes and private couriers. Despite many seizures, no significant arrests were made.

The police are now trying to create awareness among the villagers. Mr. Pradip says that the grim reality has sunk in.

Anti-narcotics officials feel that drug smugglers have found their movement restricted after the Assam Rifles manning the 358 km long Manipur-Myanmar border stepped up vigilance against militants.