Myanmar poppy, open borders fuel drug abuse in Nagaland

Myanmar poppy, open borders and poor policing fuel drug abuse in Nagaland

The drug-laced cloth, locally called 'kani kapur'. Credit: DH.

Poppy cultivation is less in Nagaland compared to Manipur and parts of Arunachal Pradesh, but that has not reduced the problem of drug abuse in the state.

The situation, in fact, is becoming serious with drug addiction becoming a worry in the state, which has been grappling with an insurgency problem.

Investigation by central intelligence agencies have revealed that rampant poppy cultivation and numerous drug manufacturing units, mainly in Naga Hills Autonomous Areas under Sagaing division of neighbouring Myanmar is aiding drug trafficking into Nagaland through the unfenced border in at least five districts: Noklak, Mon, Tuensang and Phek. This has fuelled rampant drug abuse across Nagaland, causing both health and social distress.

"Poppy cultivation is rampant in Sagaing division as most parts of it are still under the control of non-state actors or insurgents there. The poppy straws, which are called opium once dried, are mixed with water and then soaked in thick clothes. These clothes are dried and cut into small pieces for peddlers to easily traffic them through the border, which are mostly open and pass through difficult terrain. These opium-laced clothes are sniffed by the addicts. One piece of 2-feet-long such clothes, which are locally called kani kapur are sold at Rs 4,500 to Rs 5,000. The situation is becoming grave as policing is still very poor in the areas close to the borders," an intelligence official, who assessed the situation on the ground told DH. "One piece of such cloth, between one to two inch are sold at Rs 250 to the addicts," he said.

Nagaland, Mizoram, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh shares the 1,624-km-long border with Myanmar. Most parts of the border is unfenced due to the difficult terrain, but this has aided the cross border smugglers, be it drugs, arms, gold or wildlife parts. The border is manned by the Assam Rifles and ITBP personnel. Free movement of residents within 16 km on both sides are also permitted without visas but the smugglers often use the stretches where there is no presence of security forces.

"Assam Rifles makes some seizures but that is just a minuscule portion of the amount of drugs being smuggled by the peddlers. There is no proper database either, as these peddlers are often let go by locals after imposing some fines as per the customary laws and without handing them over to police. There are places where the police station is 20-25 km away and so local residents don't want to take the pain of taking the peddlers to police," said the official.

So why the matter has not been taken up with Myanmar during the bilateral level talks on cross border smuggling? "When this issue crops up in the meeting, Myanmar asks for data and specific and credible information. But we don't have much data due to lack of proper policing and database with the local police even today," said the official, adding that the matter was raised in an India-Myanmar talks held in New Delhi in July last year.

The problem of drug addiction is increasing day by day with many addicts even resorting to extortion or other criminal activities to buy drugs. "The situation has aggravated due to less number of drug deaddiction centres. Even if there are a few, infrastructure and facilities are not sufficient. There is a need of a coordinated mechanism of law enforcement agencies, local people, bodies enforcing the customary laws and the state government. Otherwise, such rampant use of drugs will destroy generations in Nagaland," the official said.