NE a feeder line for Myanmar’s narco industry run with Chinese money

An 18-year-old youth in Moreh in Tengnoupal district of southern Manipur required some money to go on a pleasure trip with his friends. For this purpose he approached a woman who had agreed to give him Rs 1,000 per “soap case containing drugs” if he smuggled them from adjoining Myanmar.

The youth managed to smuggle about 50 such soap cases containing various drugs and quickly earned Rs 50,000 very easily. During his subsequent attempts, the school student was nabbed by the Assam Rifles troopers last year.

Not only this Manipuri youth, there are hundreds of youths including girls in Manipur, Mizoram and other northeastern states who, due to poverty and unemployment, have become involved with the drug smuggling rackets and the cross border nexus.

Earlier, the cultivation of opium and ganja (marijuana) in Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Assam and other northeastern states was a big clandestine business but now the smuggling of synthetic drugs has become a major illicit cross border trade.

According to a report of the United States Department of Justice most of the drug trafficking in Myanmar and the famous Golden Triangle (which includes Myanmar, Laos and Thailand) has the involvement of Chinese nationals.

These people of Chinese descent remain active in drug manufacturing and secret trading activities in Southeast Asia.

On December 6 last year, Assam Rifles accompanied by the Manipur police carried out a raid in which they seized large quantities of drugs – heroin and methamphetamine tablets — worth Rs 500 crores in the international market from a house at Sunrise Ground in Moreh town of Manipur and arrested 19-year-old Monkhai.

The woman who owned the house was a resident of Khampat in neighbouring Myanmar and was married to a Chinese national. This is not a mere coincidence.

Officials of the Assam Rifles under the Indian Army guarding the northeastern states’ international borders, mostly unfenced, confirmed that drug trafficking is growing each day after the military seized power in Myanmar through a coup in February last year.

Despite the northeastern states with the active involvement of central agencies and the Union Home Ministry waging an all out war against drug trafficking, the illegal trade is rampant in the region specially in Mizoram and Manipur.

According to a report of the Union Home Ministry (MHA) drugs worth Rs 768 crore were seized in the northeastern states between 2006-2013, which increased by 25 times to Rs 20,000 crore between 2014-2022.

The report said that a total of 1,257 cases were registered between 2006-2013 which increased by 152 per cent to 3172 between 2014-2022.

The total number of arrests during the same period increased by 260 percent to 4888 as against 1362 earlier. During 2006-2013, 1.52 lakh kg of drugs were seized which doubled to 3.30 lakh kg between 2014-2022.

Tripura Director General of Police (DGP) Amitabh Ranjan, who was the Additional Director of the Intelligence Bureau for many years until July this year, said that smuggling of synthetic drugs into the northeastern and other states of the country from the neighbouring countries specially from Myanmar, is a new threat and a major challenge for the security agencies.

He said: “We are trying to deal with the synthetic drugs’ peddling from sources to the destined point so that the clandestine trade could be busted permanently.”

He stressed on technological intervention to effectively deal with the underground trade.

A report of the industry body Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI) said: “Loss of jobs and lack of income due to recurrent lockdowns and economic crisis during the Covid-19 pandemic have left citizens without a means of livelihood.”

“Reports suggest that smugglers and insurgents are using people from the local tribal areas to transport smuggled goods by taking advantage of their financial vulnerability caused due to various reasons,” the FICCI report said.

Senior police, para-military officials, experts and researchers said that the drug menace is not just a security related issue.

Security expert Manas Paul said that the Myanmar border is the main hotspot of drug smuggling and after the military took over the reigns of the neighbouring country people in the tribal and Muslim dominated areas bordering India and Bangladesh are in distress leading to their involvement in various activities including cross border illegal trade.

“A section of people shifted themselves from the cultivation of ganja (marijuana) and opium to synthetic drugs smuggling for easy income. Military administration, frequent armed conflict between the Army and civil insurgent outfits, lack of livelihood and a normal situation led a section of people in Myanmar to get involved in the cross border drug trade,” Paul told IANS.

After Manipur’s Moreh, Champhai district bordering Myanmar in southeastern Mizoram is a hotspot of cross border drug smuggling. The law enforcement agencies have recovered huge quantities of various drugs, including 36.684 kgs of heroin, valued at Rs 40 crore this year so far.

In the Champhai district alone, 184 people including 47 Myanmar nationals were arrested for drug smuggling.

Mizoram police and Assam Rifles officials said that Champhai is considered to be one of the main entry points for cross border illegal trade from Myanmar to India, including a variety of drugs, areca nuts, foreign cigarettes, gold, wildlife, human hair and other contraband.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah held a meeting with the Chief Ministers, Chief Secretaries and Director Generals of Police of all the northeastern states in October in Guwahati to take a coordinated approach to deal with the big challenge of synthetic drugs’ trade.

Top officials of the Narcotics Control Bureau and other central agencies held separate meetings in different northeastern states during the past several months to frame strategies for an all out effort against the drug trade and related threats.

Heroin and highly addictive methamphetamine tablets, also commonly known as ‘Yaba’, foreign origin cigarette, poppy seeds, opium, marijuana, morphine, bottles of cough syrup are often seized in Mizoram, Manipur, Assam and other northeastern states after being smuggled from Myanmar.

Besides drugs, a variety of other contraband like gold, as well as arms and ammunition and huge numbers of exotic animals are often smuggled from Myanmar to the northeastern states, especially Mizoram and Manipur.

Four Indian northeastern states of Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Assam share an 1,880-km border with Bangladesh, while Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh share a 1,640-km unfenced border with Myanmar.

Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim also share 1080 km and 220.35 km frontiers with China respectively while Assam, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim have 267 km, 217 km and 32 km borders respectively with Bhutan.

Sikkim also has a 97.80 km border with Nepal.

(Sujit Chakraborty can be contacted at sujit.c@ians.in)

20221217-172405

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