Ever since the second edition of the War on Drugs began, not a single day passes by without news of arrests of drug peddlers and smugglers besides the seizure of drugs worth crores of rupees by either the police or security forces or for that matter anti-drug vigilantes from among the general public. Many a times, police personnel were also caught red-handed with drugs and there are murmurs of the involvement of some police higher-ups in the drug trade of which the chief minister has been briefed.
In the past, groups of regular policemen or police commandos and even some army officers were caught with huge quantities of drugs and cases under the NDPS Act are still going on. In a bid to scale up the campaign against drug smuggling, the chief minister has even allowed forces like Manipur Rifles or IRB besides the regular police, specially designated units and wings to join in the anti-drug campaign. Just as the Centre has Narcotic Control Bureau (NCB), the state has Narcotics and Affairs of Border (NAB) under the Police Department and now there is the task force. In his second term as the chief minister, N Biren formed an Anti-Narcotics Task Force (ANTF) just days after he was sworn in for the second time. He has even started announcing rewards for police units involved in large scale seizure of drugs and arrests.
Decades ago, Manipur was just a transit point in drug smuggling originating from the infamous Golden Triangle, as it shares a 400 km long border with Myanmar. The Golden Triangle is an area where the borders of Thailand, Laos, and Myanmar meet at the confluence of the Ruak and Mekong rivers. The Golden Triangle is commonly used more broadly to refer to an area of approximately 950,000 square kilometres that overlaps the mountains of the three adjacent countries.
Three decades ago, this region produced more than 70 per cent of all opium sold worldwide, most of it refined into heroin. Well, that is the basic background of the overall drug scenario. The widespread poppy plantations and the home-grown drug manufacturing units in Manipur did not develop overnight. There must certainly be patrons or powerful people behind the wide-spread poppy plantation just as there would be for the heavy traffic of drugs in recent times.
Chief Minister N Biren Singh’s War on Drugs campaign was marred by the infamous Lhukhosei Zou case in his first term and it still continues to haunt his anti-drug campaign. Lhukhosei Zou was a political big-wig from whose residence a huge haul of drugs was seized. There was a big tamasha of charges and counter-charges flying around within the establishment itself. Somehow, he got himself acquitted by the court while a few of his minions were convicted. The Supreme Court had even questioned the wisdom of not going for appeal by the Manipur government against the acquittal and the state had no alternative but to go for appeal.
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Well, how did he get himself acquitted? It is a question on everyone’s lips. Charges were flying around like political patronage and police corruption. But, let us forget about these speculations for the time being. Let us have a cursory look at the actual state of things regarding proper police procedure starting from arrests and seizure and investigation followed by prosecution in the court. First, let us agree with the fact that the rate of conviction in NDPS related cases is still very low. Forget about lack of sincerity. What matters most is whether the right procedure as mandated by CrPC is followed at the time of arrests or seizure by investigating officers.
All police officers after recruitment are trained in police procedures both in theory and practical during the probation period. The Police SIs and in some cases the ASIs who act as Investigating Officers (IOs) are supposed to follow the Code, as conviction of any accused depends on proper investigation and due procedure. If there are lapses in investigation and procedure, prosecution is bound to fail. This is exactly why most prosecution cases relating to drugs are running short of conviction when they are put on trial. So, it would be wise to concentrate more on investigation and procedure.