Updated 1 Jun 2022, 5:34 pm
Manipur Chief Minister on May 18 observed that War on Drugs 2.0 is a success with illicit drugs worth Rs 182 crore seized and 140 persons, 120 males and 20 females arrested, in less than two months. He also mentioned that 380 acres of poppy plantation was destroyed during the same period. One should say good going. However, poppy is a rabi crop and most of the harvest is completed by March and destruction of plantation after that will have limited impact. The plantations need to be destroyed before any harvest is carried out starting from when the plants are young say November-December before flowering.
In fact, there have been reported claims that many plantations were destroyed after harvest of opium for photo-op purposes. Technology must be utilised to combat this menace and agricultural drones can be used to spray contact herbicides like paraquat which has lesser impact on the environment as compared to systemic herbicides like glyphosate. This should be addition to destroying the by physical means.
Many organisations have pledged towards the fight against drug, particularly poppy cultivation. In certain districts it is doable, but in others doubt still persists due to the support by certain armed elements, with even a photograph of an MLA candidate in a poppy plantation going viral in the social media some time back. Further a question why the sudden support from all sections; is it due to the realisation about the damaging impact of illicit drug cultivation on the society or is it an effort to take advantage of expected Government largesse as was done in the case of Paoyi (Peh) village where CM awarded Rs 10 lakh and horticulture department intervened.
The real situation will be clear in the coming rabi season; if the villages refrain from poppy cultivation it will seen that the people are serious about stopping this menace and the effort is a success. But there is always a chance that many villages will resort to it due to its high return.
The CM had earlier observed as to why the villagers resort to poppy plantation when they had also sustained prior to this venture and stopped short of saying that there will be hardly any financial support from the government; in fact the state government is not financially capable of providing major support.
The concern about the massive support is that organisation which had provided support in poppy plantation like on the Manipur River bank beyond Sajik Tampak has joined the movement as if people are totally unaware of their past activities. Hope the declarations are serious and not for propaganda purposes to make them see as the saviour of the public.
Under the NDPS Act, those who grow illicitly the source of the various drugs like poppy, ganja, etc are liable to penalty. In the Kuki villages, the chief just cannot claim that he is unaware as he is the sole owner of the land. In the Naga villages, the headman and the village authority members can easily identify the owner of the plot on which poppy is grown. Those who allow their land to be utilised for poppy cultivation must be put under preventive detention under the Prevention of Illicit Drug Trafficking Act 1988 as the Advisory Board under Article 22 of the Constitution is already in place since January 2020 which was extended to NDPS cases from March 2021.
The Government must also ensure that those apprehended must be prosecuted in a time bound manner so that those arrested are penalised within a specific time frame, say one year. Merely arresting and keeping them under preventive detention for a year or two is insufficient and those involved must be convicted under the law. If need be, those who are repeat offender may be awarded death penalty as provided under the Act to discourage others.
The criminal jurisprudence system must be geared towards this end and if need be, more special courts can be created. Further, efforts must be made to arrest the kingpins and not merely the mules carrying the illicit drugs. There is still a nagging concern due to the Zou’s case where government dilly dallied in filing appeal and its hand was forced only the Apex Court was approached by a third party and considered the matter seriously.
The area under poppy cultivation was estimated to be large running into more than a lakh acres but the SP NAB recently indicated that drone mapping had shown about 7000 acres under cultivation. This is perhaps due to the fact that the drone mapping could not cover the entire area under cultivation or it was carried out only in those areas which are easily accessible. Real time satellite imagery may also be used to identify the plantations.
The poppy plantations must be geo-tagged and kept in records for future reference. The state also needs to look into the sociological aspect why in Hmar and Zeliangrong dominated areas, it is much lesser. The study can provide insights into why certain communities are more involved in this illicit business while some refrain from it. Still further as many of those involved in planting and harvesting opium do not speak Meiteilon, many of them are from outside the state and country and thus one chilling aspect is the in-migration due to poppy cultivation, which needs to be stopped urgently.
In the column of May 11, a case was made for the adoption of spot colour tests for opiates like opium, heroin, etc at the time of seizure so that it is immediately confirmed that the contraband seized is really opiates or acid. Some officers involved in seizures enquired about the methods available and hence the three methods referred to earlier are described in a bit more detail.
The first method is the Marquis Test using Marquis reagent which is a mixture of formaldehyde and concentrated sulphuric acid. The US Department of Justice produced the reagent by adding 100 ml of concentrated sulphuric acid (95-98%) to 5 ml of formaldehyde (40%). It detects alkaloids and the method is to put a drop on the samples and different compounds produce different colours and from the colour and the time taken to develop the colour the compound is identified.
The reagent is clear and colourless and is to be stored in a freezer for maximum shelf life. Any change in the colour after 60 seconds is to be discarded. Morphine produces deep purple colour, Opium produces dark grayish reddish brown, d-Methamphetamine gives deep reddish orange to dark reddish brown, Heroin (Diacetlymorphine) gives deep purplish red.
It can detect various other illicit drugs like Codiene, Cocaine, DMAA (Dimethoxy-4-amylamphetamine), DMT (Diphenylhydramine), DMMA (Dimethoxymethamphetamine hydrochloride), LSD (Lysergic Acid diethylamide), Mescaline and many others.
Mecke method uses Mecke reagent which is a mixture of concentrated sulphuric acid and selenous acid. The US Department of Justice method of preparing the reagent is the addition of 100 ml of concentrated (95-98%) sulphuric acid to 1 g of selenous acid. The method of testing is similar where a few drops are dripped on to the sample and the change in the colour identifies the sample tested.
The final colour gives the composition of the test sample. Heroin gives deep bluish green, Morphine produces very dark bluish green, Opium gives olive black, LSD gives greenish black, DMMA gives dark brown, Codeine gives very dark bluish green and other illicit drugs gives varying colour. This reagent is highly toxic and is to be stored in a freezer away from light.
The third test is using Froehde reagent which as per the US Department of Justice is prepared by adding 100 ml of hot concentrated (95-98%) sulphuric acid to 0.5 g of sodium molybdate or molybdic acid.
Unheated sulphuric acid can be used but it takes about four hour to dissolve the sodium molybdate. Amphetamine either produces no colour or it may give a red colour, heroin hydrochloride give deep purplish red or green colour, Opium gives brownish black, LSD gives moderate yellow green or yellow green, Codeine gives very dark green or red brown, etc.
The members of NAB and other police personnel involved in combating illicit drugs can be trained to use the reagents to identify the contraband seized on the spot which should be videographed in the presence of those apprehended along with the contraband. The video can perhaps be used during prosecution; as these are standard spot colour test for detection of illicit drugs and used in most of the developed countries.
State may also reward informers who informs about the plantation, production, storage or transportation of illicit drugs and those involved in it. The identity of the informer must be kept a secret so that reprisal from the gang is avoided as drug gangs are reported to be the most violent criminal gangs; resorting to murder, killing, shootings, etc elsewhere. The security of those involved in the combat against illicit drugs must be fully ensured.
(The views expressed are personal)
First published:24 May 2022, 5:15 pm
narcoticswar on drugspoppy cultivation
The author is a former bureaucrat, Imphal, Manipur