The War on Drugs 2.0 campaign that began after the Biren Singh-led government was sworn in this year (2022) in Manipur received large-scale support from several communities. Various civil organisations met the chief minister to express their support. Whether such support will turn into action will be seen during the coming Rabi season. According to reports, large tracts were found under preparation for poppy plantation despite the declaration of support to the anti-drugs campaign.
The chief minister informed the House in the last state assembly session that during the period 2017-2022, a total of 2,536 people were arrested in drug related cases.
Fourteen of them were convicted, 2,158 are under judicial custody and 1,743 cases registered of which, 1029 are pending and 697 were charge-sheeted.
As regards the volume of illicit drugs seized, 25 items, including 193.3 kg of heroin, 2690.6 kg of brown sugar, 1,626.5 kg opium, which 225 litres are in liquid form, 1,00,85,472 pieces of World is Yours (WY) tablets, 11,08,320 pieces of SP tablets and 7785.4 kg of cannabis among others were seized during the same period.
Now, one is a bit unsure about the classification of brown sugar (Heroin No 3), as the major portion may be brown Heroin base (Heroin No 1), the first product in the process of manufacturing Heroin hydrochloride, due to the colour.
Those which come in soap cases are brown sugar (Heroin No 3), while those seized in bulk locally are most probably brown heroin base.
Further, the WY tablets are brand names, the active principle being methamphetamine. SP tablet which was banned in 2013 is also a brand name with its active principle being Dicyclomine, Paracetamol and Tramadol.
From the data provided, the conviction rate is abysmally low, indicating serious flaws in the seizure, investigation and prosecution.
As the process is continuing, a hundred per cent charge sheet or conviction is impossible, but only 14 convictions points to serious weaknesses.
It was also informed that those involved in the seizures etc were trained by experts from national agencies.
The Advisory Board constituted under Article 22 of the Constitution was empowered to deal with the NDPS cases and hence the Prevention of Illicit Drug Trafficking Act 1988 is in operation in Manipur.
The question is should one be satisfied or look into more measures to increase the conviction rate?
From the data, it can be inferred that the main object of the campaign seems seizure of illicit drugs and such large-scale seizures are comforting to both the leaders and the public, that the campaign is bearing fruit.
Illicit drug seizures across the globe is estimated to be around 10-20 per cent of the volume of trade indicating that a major chunk of the illicit drug goes to the market.
Till now no kingpin has been arrested. The person who has the resources to procure large quantities of illicit drugs goes scotfree.
Most of those apprehended were poor mules; who were transported for a few thousand bucks. The kingpin supervises through intermediaries the whole process of transport and storage and once some issue crops up, he or she will vanish in thin air.
Intelligence and proper investigation can identify the kingpin or the main dealer who operate many layers above the mules.
In Zou's case, the court is satisfied that he is not involved though it is clear that those convicted do not have the wherewithal to procure large quantity of illicit drugs and this aspect was not properly addressed.
Various security setups were empowered under Section 42 of the NDPS, including the Army, AR, CPOs and armed police. But the question is whether their personnel have been trained in the protocol of what should be done when a seizure is made, such as when a random checking yielded illicit drugs.
The state police should prepare dos and don’ts in consultation with NCB for all such agencies which were not properly trained for taking up a matter before the criminal court, so that gaps at the time of prosecution are minimised.
While deciding a case, the court has to be satisfied fully that guilt was established and any loophole in the process of seizures and investigation will have serious bearing on the outcome of the case.
At present, the only thing one sees is videos of the persons apprehended with the drugs seized; mainly for publicity. There seems to be a competition for publicity among the various agencies for seizing illicit drugs.
When any agency seizes illicit drugs, the matter has to be transferred to the concerned police station which will investigate and bring up the matter before the court. There seems distrust between those who seizes the illicit drugs and the police stations.
On one hand, there are allegations that proper procedure has not been followed when the seizure was made and that innocents were targeted, while on the other it was alleged that some police stations were soft on the traffickers.
Both allegations may be wrong or true but the situation is just not conducive for the campaign to be successful.
Since the 1980s, the focus of the state police has been more on maintenance of law and order and investigation has taken a back seat.
There is a need to identify good investigators from amongst the personnel in the police department, train them properly and form teams to investigate and prosecute illicit drug cases.
In other words, there should be specialisation in the department, else with the advancing technology and requirement, the department will be left out in the cold.
One is also quite unsure about the NCB, the central agency which was in the limelight during the Rhea Chakravarty and Aryan Khan’s case where the seizures are so minimal but press statements were made by officers of the level of Joint Director; their presence in the state was never felt.
If the illicit drug in metros is to be curtailed, the best is to seize before transhipment here itself or Punjab or Gujarat, rather than trying to seize when it has reached the metro as by that time the consignment would have passed on to thousands of small-time peddlers.
Earlier in this column, suggestions were made for spot colour tests for illicit drugs at the time of seizure, rather than claim seizure of suspected illicit drugs. For those seizures made on sudden checking and frisking, it may not be possible to involve the local police station or NAB. For such seizures a standard operating procedure needs to be developed and all those agencies which make the seizures must follow the SOP.
In those cases where there was intelligence, why can’t the concerned police station be involved at the time of raid? Why should there be a MR or IRB or police commando raid without involving the local police or NAB? Is this not onemanupship? Or is this to grab all rewards and publicity by a small team?
It needs to remember that the fight against illicit drugs is for all and credit and rewards is an adjunct benefit. Yes, the team which brought the intelligence must be rewarded. If the local police are involved, formal seizure can be made by them and it is their responsibility to successfully prosecute.
In other words the whole police and agencies which are there to support the police must work as a team.
Many civil societies and organisations are also involved in the detection and seizures of illicit drugs by taking huge risks using the powers provided to citizens under IPC 42 but behaving like law enforcement agencies themselves destroy the case.
If there are intelligence inputs, they should inform and go along with the police. Even if they suspect that some personnel are perhaps hand in glove with the traffickers, they can always not divulge the location or the persons suspected. This will do away with the suspicions that some unscrupulous elements may inform of the impending raid.
While the raid is conducted, in the presence of police they can be private witnesses but should not be actively involved like counting the seized items, questioning the suspects, etc. The attempt to be in the limelight by making the raid themselves and informing the police only when there are problems will only destroy the case when it comes to the court.
The weakness of the investigation can be gauged by the fact that after seizure and arrest of those carrying or harbouring the illicit drugs, hardly any additional arrest was made. It is clear that many of those apprehended are just mules or carriers.
Proper interrogation and scientific investigation can uncover the financiers and once some of them were arrested and convicted, there will be a perceptible reduction in the production, transport and marketing of illicit drugs.
Political interference must be done away with as there are rumours where pressure was built during investigation in a few cases, it was found that influential persons were involved in either illicit drug or gold smuggling cases.
(The views expressed are the writer's own)