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Standing up to vested interests

A case of seized drugs in Manipur has brought a no-nonsense police officer on a collision course with the state’s political establishment.

YAMBEM LABA | New Delhi |

The cat is finally out of the bag in Manipur’s war on drugs. Decorated police officer Thounaojam Brinda Devi MPS has stated in a sworn affidavit before the Manipur High Court that she came under tremendous pressure from chief minister N Biren Singh and a close acquaintance of his to not press charges against politician-cum-drug lord Lhukhosei Zou.

Brinda had arrested him two years ago along with 4.595 kilograms of No 4 heroin powder estimated to be worth about Rs 30 crore in the international market; 280, 200 “world is yours” party drug tablets worth about Rs 28 crore, and more than Rs 57 lakh in cash.

She is now facing contempt proceedings for her tirades against the Narcotics Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Court, which she posted on social media after the judge agreed to release Zou on bail for medical reasons.

Brinda stated in her affidavit that on the intervening night of 19 June 2018, a team from the Narcotics and Affairs of Border department of Manipur Police arrested Zou along with seven others.

The operation, which started around 4.30 pm that day and lasted till well past midnight, was led by her as she was the additional superintendent.

Once the crackdown began, some of the arrested persons revealed that drugs were hidden in different places including the quarter of an Autonomous District Council member at Lamphel.

When the police team was about to enter the quarter, a WhatsApp call came from one Moirangthem Asnikumar, a Bharatiya Janata Party state unit vice-president, who enquired about any developments in drugs-busting operations. Brinda told him that she was in the middle of an operation then.

The BJP leader then made her speak to the chief minister who had been briefed about the situation. Biren Singh told her to go ahead and arrest the ADC member if drugs were found there. The last cordon and search was conducted at the quarter along with a team of Lamphel Police (Imphal West Police) led by then SP (lmphal West) Themthing Mashnngva.

He, however, did not enter the premises of the ADC quarter, Brinda said in the affidavit. Before and after the drugs were found, the ADC member, who turned out to be Zou (chairman of the ADC, Chandel district), repeatedly requested the lady officer to settle the issue. Brinda refused to do so. After the drugs were seized, Zou asked her to allow him to call the director general of police and the chief minister.

She refused to do so as well. On the morning of 20 June, Asnikumar went to Brinda’s residence at Yaiskul Janmasthan. She spoke to him in the presence of her husband in the bedroom, according to the affidavit.

During the conversation, Brinda has stated, the BJP leader told her that the arrested ADC member was the right hand man of one Olice, a close acquaintance of Biren Singh. Asnikumar informed her that the CM had ordered Zou to be exchanged with his wife or son, which Brinda refused as the drugs were seized from him and not his wife or son.

Helpless, Asnikumar left but he went back a second time. He said that the CM and Olice were extremely unhappy with Brinda’s defiance of their order. He again asked her to release Zou.

Brinda told the BJP leader that the culpability of the ADC chairman should be left to the court. Informing him that there were over 150 personnel present in the entire operation along with independent witnesses, she asked what she would tell the team and the public when asked how the ADC chairman vanished after arrest. Asnikumar left the scene.

Then around 11 am on the same day, Brinda stated that Asnikumar came back for a third time and told her that the CM and Olice were adamant that she release Zou under any condition.

According to the affidavit, she replied, “I do not need this job. I came back to this service at the request of New Delhi on the promise that I would be supported in the work I do and can leave the job anytime if I am not satisfied. This attempt of the CM is to finish my career by destroying my credibility. I will not release the man.”

In the meantime, Mashnngva also went to her residence. Along with him, Asnikumar and Brinda discussed the matter. She told both of them that it was not possible to release Zou.

She warned about the danger of the CM involving himself in a narcotics case of such magnitude, especially since the BJP government in Manipur was young at the time.

On 14 December 2018, SP of the NAB informed Brinda that the DG had called for a meeting at 11 am that day. The DGP enquired about the whereabouts of the charge sheet of the ADC case.

Brinda informed him that it had reached the court but the DGP said the CM wanted it removed from there. She replied that it was not possible as the charge sheet had already been submitted.

Later, that evening, SP NAB informed her that he had just come back from meeting the CM and the latter was infuriated that the charge sheet had still not been removed. On 11 January 2019, Yumkham Rather, Special Judge NDPS Manipur, wrote a letter to the DGP and secretary of the Bar Council of Manipur describing a grave development that had taken place in the Zou case. In that letter, the judge stated that on 14 December 2018, Imphal West SP Jogesh Chandra Haobijam IPS and H Chandmjit Sharma, senior advocate, reportedly came and met T Bipinchandra, the special public prosecutor, at his office.

They asked the investigating officer to withdraw the charge sheet against Zou, the affidavit stated. Brinda further said on 31 March 2019, an Imphal-based daily published the news about how Sharma and Chandra tried to meddle in the trial. Around 8.30 am that day, SP NAB told her to come to office.

When she asked why, he replied that an order had come from the DGP that the NAB make a written public clarification that there was no pressure to remove the charge sheet. Upon her refusal to do so, the SP (NAB) issued a press statement to that effect.

After Brinda’s revelation became public through local media and went viral online, Biren Singh issued a statement that nobody would be spared, even if they were family or BJP members, in the fight against the drug menace as well as the ongoing case.

The Opposition went hammer and tongs with state Congress Party president M Oken saying that a Cabinet meeting of the government should be urgently called, and the case of Zou’s arrest along with the seizure of drugs handed over to an independent body like the Central Bureau of Investigation. In yet another turn of events, Mashnngva, now DIG, filed a criminal contempt case against the publisher and editor of an Imphal-based English daily for carrying portions of Brinda’s affidavit in their newspaper.

The lady officer was also named by him and the matter has been listed for hearing by the Manipur High Court. Manipur Police’s public relations officer, W Basu Singh has also released a press statement saying that there were no political interferences in the investigation being carried out in the Zou case. Brinda, who is the daughter-inlaw of former United National Liberation Front supremo RK Meghen, entered Manipur Police Service only after she had moved the High Court over the refusal of the then Congress government to induct her, given her family ties with the UNLF chief.

Then she resigned from service after reporting that her Commanding Officer was withdrawing money in her name for petrol expenses.

Her protests elicited no response from both the government and police authorities. Only after pressure was mounted on the state government by the Union ministry of home affairs through the Intelligence Bureau, she rejoined service. A no-nonsense officer with grit and determination, Brinda has said on record that she doesn’t mind being sent to jail for her convictions. But observers feel that the High Court should exercise judicial activism and help curb the drug menace in Manipur.

The writer is the Imphal-based Special Representative of The Statesman.