While the normal trade practices have come to a halt after the closing of the Indo-Myanmar Border Gates since March 9 last year due to the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, smuggling of drugs and other illegal items from Myanmar into Manipur continues unabated. The traders and small business community are hit hard and suffer severely though.
This has been substantiated by a report of the Manipur Police Department that as many as 257 cases were also registered and 22 persons were convicted under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS) in 2020.
Among the cases registered under the NDPS Act, 72 cases were related to the seizure of heroin powder which accounted for the maximum cases registered. As many as 48 cases were registered in connection with the seizure of brown sugar and 39 cases registered related to the seizure of WY tablets. And a total of 2847.5 acres of poppy were also destroyed.
Moreover, despite restrictions on the sale of liquor in the state, bootlegging still thrives in the black market. The police have seized a huge amount of liquors and manufacturing items in the previous year, 2020. They seized 534 bottles of canned beer, two half bottles of Kalten berry beer, and 18.5 litres of grape juice. Ironically, the state’s being a dry state under the Manipur Liquor Prohibition Act, 1991, has never really reflected on the unrestricted sales of liquor.
The Moreh route has turned into an illegal smuggling route, remarked the Inner Parliamentary Constituency MP, Dr. RK Ranjan at the ‘Seminar on Post COVID-19 Cross Border Trade’ organised by the Border Trade and Chambers of Commerce (BTCC) in Moreh on December 28. He further said that a high-level committee meeting between India and Myanmar will be held on January 5 in Mandalay. The meeting will discuss reopening of the border by taking up all necessary measures for keeping the spread of Covid-19 in check.
“With all our collective efforts, trading should flourish smoothly. According to recent studies, trading values have reduced from $128 million to $76 million dollars,” Dr. RK Ranjan said.
Meetei Council Moreh (MCM) President, M Thoiba appealing to the State and Union governments to reopen the border gates that were closed since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, also said illegal businesses and drug trades continue unabated and the security forces have arrested people involved in these illegal activities.
“Whenever the border is closed and legalised trade comes to a halt, the people whose livelihood depends on this trade suffer greatly. But the business of drugs smuggling continues to thrive on a large scale,” he added.
Earlier this same issue has been written and discussed here.
Meanwhile, the participants of the seminar highlighted the difficult situation which the poor labourers and small business communities are in after the onset of Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent closing down of the border trade.
Reports said that they also highlighted that many families living below poverty line, and labourers and citizens living hand-to-mouth had left the town and returned to their hometowns. Since Moreh town has no cultivable lands, the citizens of the town survive only on trading, though small.
Further, Thoiba highlighted the role of BTCC during these difficult times and said that BTCC had taken initiatives to help poor labourers and small business communities during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, MP RK Ranjan expressed that he was shocked to learn that many labourers and families living below the poverty line had left the town.
It may be mentioned that in April-May last year, a number of temporary border fencing had been constructed along the Indo-Myanmar border supposedly to contain the possible spread of Covid-19 from Myanmar, since the country is a close neighbour of China from where the Covid-19 outbreak was first reported. The closure of Gate No. 1 and 2 has hit the residents of the border town of Moreh and many villages along the international border.
Lack of basic infrastructures has resulted in illegal trade and drugs smuggling while the normal trade practices were not allowed beyond Gate No. 1 and 2 even before the pandemic.
It is said that several leaders at the seminars also highlighted the need for proper development of infrastructures for water supply schemes and electricity management, etc. It was further pointed out that due to lack of proper drainage system, the town has been facing difficulties during the rainy season.
Highlighting the comparative difference in development and progress between Moreh town and Tamu town, NEFIT Secretary, I Rajen said that within a short period of time, Tamu town of Myanmar has witnessed a rapid development phase but Moreh in Manipur remains as it is.
Rajen said the number of trading items between India and Myanmar has increased to 62 recently, but due to many reasons trade could not continue smoothly.
Besides the closure of Indo-Myanmar border gates, high number of security checks and unpacking of the goods has slowed down the normal business. Owing to high numbers of security check posts in the border area, the movement of people on the route becomes an ordeal and takes more time.
It is said the participants of the seminar observed that Assam Rifles on this particular highway is conducting unwanted security drills over activities of even government departments and business is affected due to this.
Meanwhile, MP Dr. RK Ranjan said, “Regarding the AR activities at the particular highway, concrete evidence is needed to solve the problem.”
However, continuing arrests of drug smugglers with huge amounts of drugs routed through the Indo-Myanmar border shows that even with the closure of the Indo-Myanmar border drugs smuggling and illegal trade are unabated while the normal border trade and small businesses are suffering severely.
Senior Editor: Imphal Review of Arts and Politics