There is a general belief that in the present crisis in Manipur, one party is financed by drug money. On June 20, the Mint reported that the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) is investigating high value transfer of Rs 20 lakh and above that took place in Manipur since January.
According to the report, FIU is focussing on 150 “suspicious” accounts of people spread over Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland, including politicians and a few charitable organisations that exhibit an unusual pattern of financial assistance. This also includes two Manipur based businesses with a history of money laundering.
The FIU is also looking into the transactions of six people having connection with drug trade, including a history of frequent high value transactions with Myanmar. This report indicates that the Government of India also shares the general perception of the people of Manipur and had started investigation, though the report is not available in the public domain yet.
There is, however, a strong suspicion that drug money is not transferred through the regular banking route but either through hawala transactions or through cash. In Manipur for many high value transactions, despite laws regulating the limit of cash transactions, this system is the preferred mode of transaction even in procuring real estate.
There is even a rumour of transporting in two vehicles fully loaded with the cash for procurement of a real estate by two individuals. Hence, what the FIU detects will only be a tip in the iceberg.
One of the major sources of income of many individuals from all communities is the drug money. While those from other communities are only for the profits, the general perception is that those from the Kuki-Chin community are involved in propagating the idea of a Kukiland in Manipur bankrolling the effort.
There were allegations that the Kuki-Chin group under the Suspension of Operations (SoO) are involved in this trade and when the ethnic violence started on May 3, many cadres were not in the designated camps. But rather they reportedly roamed around training people in the use of arms and procurement of weapons.
When after a hue and cry much later a check was made by the security forces, it was found that most of the cadres were present in the designated camps and that weapons stored in the designated camps were intact.
The raid at Police station for looting of arms started at Singhat Police Station in Churachandpur which was followed elsewhere. In the valley also, armouries of armed police Bns were raided and arms looted though about one-fifth of those looted have been recovered.
There are around 4000 weapons floating around in the hands of civilians who by now have been trained in the handling of sophisticated weapons. The Kuki-Chin held approximately about a fourth, while the Meitei the remaining three-fourth. However, in the actual conflict, the weaponry and the fire power of the Kuki-Chin is not inferior to the Meitei indicating that the former has a source of weapons and the consumables which can come only from drug money.
For more than a decade, the acreage of poppy cultivation keeps on increasing in Manipur, which is not surprising as after the crackdown by the Myanmar government the Golden Triangle has shifted from heroin to methamphetamine production and it is now the largest supplier of this drug in the world.
After the military takeover in Myanmar in 2021, there is an increase in the acreage in Myanmar but since last year the Taliban had enforced strict control over the cultivation of poppy in the Golden Crescent region. Thus Manipur became an ideal place for poppy cultivation.
Earlier, the opium harvested were transported to Myanmar for processing into heroin but by 2018 makeshifts labs sprouted in the valley region in some localities and manufacture of the semi-synthetic drug heroin, a highly profitable business, was started.
Since the past few years the makeshifts labs had been shifted to the hill areas as the reach of the police there is limited and the chances of discovery and arrest is limited as in the Imphal valley a number of makeshift labs had been busted.
Some of the produce are converted to heroin in the state or the opium was transported either to mainland India or Myanmar for conversion. Poppy is grown both as a kharif and rabi crop in Manipur though the acreage is higher in the later due to the fact that for kharif due to rains the latex can be washed away during rains.
The area under cultivation is reported to vary from 18,000 acre to 1,25,000 acre but a recent study by a team from the Manipur University through analysis of satellite imagery, which result is yet to be published, indicate that around 360 sq km is under cultivation of this crop. This area is 1.61 per cent of the total land area of the state, which is high and in terms of hectare it is 36,000 and in acre 90,000. With this dimension, the effort of the State Government in destroying the plantation is miniscule, to say the least.
Hence, more effort is needed to control this menace before it brings disaster to the state. Merely cutting down the plants will never be able to control the menace of poppy plantation. More effective control measures are required.
Further due to the present conflict, the ability of the enforcement agencies to access the growing areas are limited and the chances of violent encounters may be a routine affair. Till now there has not been any encounter when teams went to destroy the plantation.
The state Government had experimented spraying of herbicides using drones but the experiment was not expanded. This is one method which can be used to destroy the plants in a much larger scale. However, the use of 2,4-D ester as the herbicide was controversial as to its effect on the environment as it is volatile and affects the surrounding plants. The use of a combination of paraquat and diquat or only paraquat, a contact is reported the most effective.
Real time satellite imagery during autumn and spring may be procured and a team of experts engaged to identify the poppy plantations with coordinates and hire a fixed wing plane to spray the herbicides. If the financiers and the growers are not allowed to harvest for two consecutive seasons, they will realise that the government is serious and refrain from such nefarious activities.
Another alternative is to restrict the issue of urea in the hill areas. As the hill areas are claimed to be organic by default, for two or three years, no urea may be issued, even to the MLAs. Since urea is a controlled item, this can be done easily. Growers had informed that without urea, the yield is low and growing poppy is not profitable. This cutting down on the availability of urea can easily be done by the Agriculture Department. In fact, urea should be made available for only the pre-planting operation for all crops, and for post planting application use of nano-urea must be encouraged. This will benefit the environment also, while reducing the burden to the Union Government by way of subsidy. Another a more difficult option is the curtailment of the availability of Glyphosate, a systemic herbicides used extensively for field preparation, which is included in the list of chemicals proposed for banning but still yet to be notified. It is reported that more than 700 MT of glyphosate was used in Manipur, excluding those that come directly from Guwahati to other district headquarters. As informed by the growers, about 20 litre are used per ha of land in four operations and from this also a calculation can be made about the acreage and that also is around 35,000 ha which almost tally with the analysis of satellite imagery. If the procurement of glyphosate in bulk is stopped; allowing only purchase of say 5 or 10 litre per person or farmer, it would definitely help in reducing poppy plantation.
Controlling poppy cultivation requires a multipronged strategy. The measures taken by the enforcement agencies should not only continue but rather intensified. The personnel, particularly from the Central security agencies, which was authorised to seize illicit drugs under the NDPS ACT must be made fully aware of the legal requirements. The conviction rate must increase so that the element of discouragement is there. Besides, inputs like glyphosate and urea need to be curtailed through all available means. And aerial spraying of contact herbicide like paraquat or even systemic herbicide glyphosate over all the plantations even using fixed wing planes need to be resorted to. If such measures are put in place and implemented sincerely, the menace of poppy plantation can be drastically curtailed and it will no longer be a buzzword in Manipur. What seems lacking is the political will!