In its first cabinet meeting, the new BJP government in Manipur listed making the state free of drugs as one of its 100 priorities in the first 100 days of its tenure. Besides, an IGP- ranked officer was appointed head of the Anti-Narcotics Task Force.
Ever since the announcement was made on March 22, drugs worth over Rs 16 crore were seized from various parts of the state and over 200 acres of poppy plantations were destroyed.
On the face of it, the hurried developments appear heartening for a state battling drug menace. But in light of the failure of the past war against drugs launched by the preceding BJP-led government, the new drive does not offer much hope.
That there had been serious lapses in the past attempts to curb the drug menace became apparent when an old drugs haul case against a BJP leader came back to haunt the present party-led government within 72 hours of its declaring phase two of war against drugs.
The Supreme Court on March 27 slammed the state government for not pursuing the case against BJP leader Lhukhosei Zou, who was acquitted in 2020 by a special court in the 2018 multi-crore drug haul case.
The apex court directed the state government to reply why it did not appeal against the acquittal on or before April 29.
Zou was arrested and six others by a team of state police personnel belonging to the Narcotics and Border Affairs department led by then additional SP Thouanaojam Brinda on June 19-20, 2018.
The arrest led to the seizure of drugs, including heroin, worth around Rs 27 crore in the open market, and more than Rs 57 lakh from the residence of the politician of the state’s ruling party.
Brinda later told the Manipur High Court that she was pressurised by those close to Chief Minister Biren Singh to drop the charge sheet against Zou.
“Due to such political interference, the initiative against drugs failed to yield any significant result on the ground,” said Imphal-based rights activist Babloo Loitongbam, one of the petitioners who moved the Supreme Court.
Punching a hole in the BJP government’s previous “war against drugs” launched in 2018, a recent survey of the ground situation and field visits of several private de-addiction and rehabilitation centres in the state capital by the state’s leading daily the Imphal Free Press found an alarming increase in the number of young substance-dependent people turning into injecting drug users (IDUs).
Pressure groups working to achieve the goal of a drug-free Manipur question the motive itself.
One such group, the Coalition Against Drugs and Alcohol (CADA), said the recent spurt in drugs seizure actually points to the growing number of drug smugglers in the state.
Mayengbam Budhi, secretary organisation, of the CADA said drug smuggling in the state is growing despite such frequent seizures because the real perpetrators and kingpins of drug smuggling rackets are never tracked down.
Babloo Loitongbam said the so-called war against drugs in the state is a big farce, claiming that there are reports that the government agencies destroyed poppy fields after the harvest.
Budhi said the plants were destroyed to make a “show before the public” and asserted none of the plantation owners was arrested.
To discourage farmers from carrying out poppy cultivation, the previous BJP government launched a pilot project to create alternative sources of income for them. Even that project has been shelved, clearly showing a gap between the policy announcement and its implementation. Unless the gap is bridged, the war against drug 2.0 will translate to nought just like its previous version.