Imphal Review of Arts and Politics

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A poppy field on one of the hillsides of the Koubru range

Ways to Dismantle the Political Economy of Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances in Manipur

For the last few years, the phrase “war against drug” has been populist parlance, a media hype created by the incumbent Chief Minister of Manipur [CM] and his media supporters. Perhaps, “war against drug” is not bent on any new qualitative law, but operates within the legal labyrinth of the pre-existing Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1985 [NDPS]. This Act is a restraint mechanism to regulate the production, supply, and consumption of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances [drugs]. If the CM is serious enough to take an extra concern on and invest in relentless efforts in dealing with the grievous situations caused by drugs, he deserves thanking, appreciation, and award. Opposition parties should contribute to it, instead of rumor-mongering and passive watching. But if it turns out to be for a different agenda, “war against drug” will be a black spot in history. I wish our CM is serious and committed.

But some questions call for retrospections and introspections. I hope our CM is tolerant enough to go through my constructive criticism, not about him in particular but about the context that Manipur has been going through a grim picture for several decades, much before he appears in the political scene after 2001. Before that, he was a ‘journalist’; I hope he would appreciate more than what I may write. The point is that the restraint mechanism that exists on paper (Indian statute) may not be fully functional due to various evading and dereliction factors unless some innovations are integrated with it as components of an integral project. Because the ‘functionality’ is usually determined by the degree of sincerity, commitment, courage, capacity, resource, strategy, tactics, and coordinated efforts of political decision-makers, executive forces, and judicial officials. Consistent, cordial, and committed coordination is always the deciding factor in enforcing a law. In this, one-person showmanship of a giant figure and sectarianism of a clique or party can neither be long-lasting nor could it adequately address the grievous situation troubling us. The simple fact is that the legal NDPS is just a semblance of the superstructure to deal with specific proscribed crimes that are deeply rooted in a particular market economy. This had to be seriously considered to accurately determine the context of the grievances to come up with practical initiatives. Otherwise, media stunt, blindly eulogizing an Act, 56-inch chest-thumping, and populist propaganda by sycophants cannot bring merits. We need mature reasoning to fight a real grievance.

Scientifically analysed, drugs, as we know today, had its use-value, and it exists as a profitable commodity in the market of an overarching liberal political economy. It is an addictive commodity supplied for consumption. Good or bad; variants of this commodity is available in either white or black markets. The point is, supply creates demand, which in turn facilitates the growth of production and supply. The cycle of production, circulation, and consumption involves a well-knitted network of commodity (capitalist) producers, labours, managers, distributors, consumers, and complex marketing setups. As what would Marx termed “commodity fetishism” prevails under the capitalist mode of production, many strive for profit instead of social welfares. Therefore, subjective inclinations towards extracting maximum surplus value and accumulating profits. It becomes what Gramsci would call “hegemonic” and culturally rooted. Consequently, it is quite evident that production and supply of the worst addictive commodities become choices and promoted, as it easily attracts consumers and earns profits. The disastrous course of business cycle and consumption becomes self-propelling evading norms of restraint mechanisms.

It is in this context that the role of the State becomes crucial and debated. In principle, an ideal State is expected to regulate the market; that is, to keep a balance of production, supply, and consumption to stabilise overproduction and scarcity and fulfil the social necessities of healthy survival and comforts of living. An ideal State, different from an autocratic or fascist regime, is expected to enforce laws for the safety and welfare of the people. It must impose a ban on the production of commodities that carry more weight on hazardous and disastrous impacts. It must impose restrictive regulations on the commodities that could be easily abused for the worst effects. Unfortunately, under a crony capitalist liberal system where collusions of greedy market forces dominate politics, administration, and judiciary; popular expectations of an ideal State are always downplayed. Under such a situation, it is unthinkable that a particular law that would restrain the market interests of the powerful lobbies would be a hundred percent practical, though the general masses have no other option than relying on such a law.

Contemporary India’s political economy is inclined towards a liberal political economy. It is a system and social relations founded on the economic base of private ownership of means of production, commodity production, and distribution for the accumulation of wealth.  It is swiftly moving towards accomplishing a privatisation path. This path is parting ways from the ideals of social ownership of the means of production and distribution to serve social needs towards equity and progress. Here, it needs to be clearly pointed out that the State predominantly acts as a regulator or facilitator of privatisation. It does not directly engage in production and distribution to serve social needs. In stead, it functions as an instrument of powerful lobbies for whom it administers at the expense of the taxes from the commodity productions and sales of legalised commodities, which were paid by the consumers. The point is, the widespread production or distribution and abuse of addictive drugs are the consequential reflections of the existing political-economic path. Neighbouring country Myanmar follows almost the same political economy. To repeat, under this system, producers and distributors are motivated by profit interest, which is reinforced by the lapses in the enforcement of restraint mechanisms. Whether the lapses are accidental or deliberate can be debated.

It is in this context that Manipur becomes a market and transit of drugs, largely encouraged by geographical factors, economic desperateness, administrative lapses, and lack of a collective progressive vision. The drugs from Myanmar smuggled to other states of India via Manipur are: Amphetamine, Brown Sugar, Crystal Methamphetamine (‘ice’, ice drug), Heroin powder, Methaqualone, and World is Yours (Methamphetamine). The drugs from other states of India smuggled to Myanmar via Manipur are: Codeine, Ephedrine, Nitrosun-10 tablets, Pseudoephedrine, Spasmo-proxyvon capsules, etc. Transportation of drugs takes place either on land or air route. Intelligence reports identify the following seven routes of drugs: (1) Tamu (Myanmar) – Moreh – Imphal route. From Imphal to Kohima/Dimapur or Jiribam/Silchar (Assam); (2)  Molnoi/Tahan(Myanmar) – Kamjong – Imphal route; (3) Hinekyan/Chikha (Myanmar) – Behiang (Manipur) – Churchandpur – Imphal route; (4) Somrah (Myanmar) – Tusom (Manipur) – Kharasom- Jessami – Kohima (Nagaland) route; (5)  Bokan (Myanmar) – Molcham – Sugnu – Imphal route: From Imphal to  Jiribam – Silchar or Kohima- Dimapur; (6) Khampat (Myanmar)– New Somtal-Sugnu–Churachandpur – Imphal route: From Imphal to  Jiribam – Silchar or Kohima – Dimapur, and (7) Air and postal routes.

Today, Manipur is a hub of drugs. According to the police report, major sensitive districts are: Heroin (Thoubal); Morphine (Bishnupur, Churachandpur, Kangpokpi, Senapati, and Thoubal); Opium (Bishnupur, Chandel, Churachandpur, Kamjong, Kangpokpi, Senapati, Tengnoupal, Thoubal, and Ukhrul); Cannabis (Senapati, Thoubal, and Ukhrul). The record does not mention pharmaceutical drugs that are widely available either in the black market or in pharmacies. At the same time, local production of cannabis or ganja and poppy cannot be ignored. Police in 2019 identified several poppy plantation areas: fifteen in Kangpokpi, four in Ukhrul, ten in Churachandpur, twelve in Tengnoupal, ten in Senapati, six in Kamjong, and seven in Chandel; altogether 64 plantation areas in Manipur. Likely, many areas inaccessible by police are not identified. The increase in poppy plantation and processing is because of its high value yielding but less capital and labour character. At the current price, on an average, one acre of poppy plantation produces about ten kilograms of raw opium. One kilogram of such raw opium can fetch an amount varying from Rs fifty thousand to Rs one lakh depending on quality and availability. There is a new development in processing and marketing. Earlier semi-raw opium was compressed and exported to Myanmar and other Indian states. Nowadays, opium concentrating and processing are carried out in clandestine kitchen laboratories in plantation hills and some parts of Thoubal. How could all these happen when the entire state is heavily militarised with well knitted strategic and tactical check posts located everywhere? Why poppy plantations flourish next to military camps in certain areas?

The symbiotic relationship between production, supply, and consumption of drugs is openly revealing. It is a flourishing economy for producers and suppliers. But I am not sure if the total monetary circulation involved in the drug business cycle is actually included in GDP calculation. Therefore, it is difficult to assess its percentage share in the overall economic growth. I am also not sure if a large chunk of the surplus-value and profit from drugs remain ‘black’ or are immediately converted into white through investment in other white businesses. But it is a common sense that many people are visibly prosperous without checking accountability by the vigilance service. And it is also a common sense that a huge chunk of ‘blacks’ are circulated to buy votes during the election. For all these reasons, those blacks become whites at the receiving end by those who would, in turn, use it in the white markets. This trickle-down effect of payment and circulation, therefore, somehow contributed to the economy, particularly enhancing the prosperity of producers and suppliers.

But these are counter-productive productions and supplies. Drugs are killer poisons that ruin society. These drugs do not add to the value of the consumers rather than looting and destroying them. The vast chunk of the wage labours who are either employed or sharecropper in the drug production or plantation units remained always bonded to the kingpins due to economic compulsions. The marginal labours or cultivators or peddlers could not improve their skill, technology, labour, and organisation to free themselves from the bondage. As a result, they have no easy opportunity to switch to a more qualitatively progressive and respectable economic production. Their labour-times are expended while keeping themselves biologically reproducing their bodies as labour by feeding on a small share. In contrast, the lion’s share is systematically alienated from them to fill the coffer of the parasitic kingpins. Though various layers of suppliers or marginal peddlers have earned money at different degrees, thereby allowing the their economic livelihood to sustain under a compulsive or bonded situation; it has irreparable disastrous impacts on the society as a whole. First, it has taken a significant toll on lakhs of lives. Second, it has caused health breakdown and economic impoverishment of several lakhs. Third, drug-related social crimes are widespread, affecting lakhs of peoples. Fourth, it has severe ecological destructions as vast areas of forests in the border areas are destroyed for opium plantation. Fifth, an excessive amount of labour-time (human resources) and resources expended by police in enforcing restraint mechanisms are irreparable wastages. Sixth, it has popularised a culture of parasitism and lethargy, which is an obstacle to social progression and welfare.

It is well known that drugs are rooted in the market economy. The grievous condition caused by drugs is perpetuated by a section of the rulers and their agents who convert the society into a theatre of the struggle for power, black money, and personal glory. Some people believe in a revolution to establish a qualitatively vibrant society to defeat all these parasites. But it must not be forgotten that a vast chunk of the potentially useful but misguided population of various economic classes is involved in this illicit trade due to economic needs. It will be challenging to wipe out everybody at one go. To transform everything at one go will be an overestimation suffering from a mechanical and adventurous dilemma. An overnight revolution to change both the objective and subjective conditions cannot be expected any sooner. However, minimising the worst effects of drugs is an immediate need? For this, we, at present, have no alternative than relying on the existing restraint mechanisms. This is neither submission to misrule nor an apologetic concession. We are compelled by the pressing condition to focus on adding values to our activism through available means without desisting from the responsibility to unionise for a long term higher goal strategically. For the immediate concerns we must endeavour the following priorities;

First, quarantine the addicts in sustainable rehabilitation centres in such an organised manner that it is not at the cost of their labour-time but actually promotes knowledge, skills, and wealth. But how? Who will do it? So far, the government has no concrete policies of detoxification and proper rehabilitation programmes? Most of the private rehabilitation centres are extractive but non-functional in the real sense. The government must play a role.

Second, promote social advocacy to discourage abuse of drugs. Volunteer organisations are doing it in a very casual, unsystematic, uncoordinated, and sporadic manner. Thanks to them that they did it using voluntarily derived meagre resources independent of government financial support. This has to be continued despite the fact that it had less impact when supply had catalytic impacts on the geometrical rise of consumers. The government must support them.

Third, intensify mass movements against production and supply. But it is not easy. What will happen if mass movements attack soft targets and let scot-free the powerful? What security do these activists have? Will it be possible to find uncompromising and courageous full-time leaders and followers when drug kingpins are too powerful and influential, thereby risking the lives of activists? Who will provide backing? In Manipur’s context, in the 1980s and 90s, it was some rebel groups who were the backing. The situation is different now, as most of them had to flee Manipur due to counter-insurgency. This vacuum, the government must fill now.

Fourth, the existing laws, such as the NDPS Act should be implemented in true spirit. Is the government fully committed to do it? Over the decades, undisclosed kingpins are possibly living splendid livelihood pursuing illicit drug business. On some occasions, owners of vast consignments of drugs could not be identified for several years due to political and bureaucratic manoeuvring. Police who played a key role in the arrest of such consignment was suddenly transferred, or the entire Special Intelligence Unit was disbanded. There was an occasion when drugs under police custody were allegedly replaced with sawdust. There were occasions when police failed to submit a charge sheet against an accused in time. There can be many more examples. The CM who advocates “war on drug” must now produce a white paper to deal with it.

Finally, I wish our CM is victorious in “war against drug.” At the same time, I would like to repeat again that fighting this epidemic cannot be one-man showmanship. CM needs to clear our doubts and suspicions. This fight must not be mixed up with any populist electoral agenda. This fight requires an adequate amount of time and labour to generate a systematic and conducive democratic communication towards developing a collective effort comprising individuals, popular democratic organisations, entrepreneurs, professionals, progressive NGOs and unions, legislators, executives, law practitioners and judicial officers, administrators, law enforcing personnel, cultural workers, and many more. Being the most ‘powerful man’ of Manipur, as the media would like to portray, I wish to see the incumbent regime brings a certain degree of qualitative change in dealing with drugs. For our present and a better tomorrow!

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