Moreh is commonly known as “Smugglers’ Village”, a boom town with a parallel township called Prem Nagar, that has grown up alongside it over the past four decades. It is the “frontline post” for a massive two-way smuggling process and Intelligence sources believe the main bases for these operations are Imphal, 150 km away on the Indian side, and Tamu, 10 km across the border in Myanmar.
There is no doubt that India is working on plans of building economic corridors in its North-east neighbourhood to boost foreign trade and give the economy the much-needed leap forward. However, does New Delhi know that the opening up of Southeast Asia carries a double-edged sword vis-à-vis the launching of the “Act East Policy”?
The Centre promises “development and investments” on the one hand and it invites “the danger of (a) rapid flow of illicit drugs and arms” on the other hand. The populace of Moreh comprises carriers and small-time promoters who work on small commissions. A town of outsiders, its populace includes 6,000 people are from South India (mainly Kerala), 4,000 are Mizos and other tribals, 3,000 are Manipuris (including a large number of Pangals, or Muslim Manipuris), while the rest are a mixture of Nepalis, Biharis, Sikhs and Marwaris. “And almost 90 per cent of them are smugglers or promoters,” said an Intelligence officer who has been working in this area for the past three years.
The Centre is only too aware that the North-east can develop, prosper and eventually overcome its troubles by engaging its eastern foreign neighbours. Especially with the recent agreement on the Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar economic corridor blueprint, India can access markets in China&’s west and southwest through the Northeastern borders. Yunnan province in China is the network hub for trade and connectivity with the rest of the country. Equally important for North-east India is regional connectivity under the subregional and regional cooperation such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation and the Greater Mekong Sub-region cooperation. That said, a word of caution is appropriate to understand the ugly behemoth of narcotics trafficking intertwined with ethnic insurgency in the neighbouring Golden Triangle.
The use of Yaba or WY — a tablet containing a mixture of methamphetamine and caffein — is increasing by the day, particularly among Manipuri youth. Precursors like pseudoephedrine and ephedrine are smuggled into the state, as also huge amounts of WY tablets that are brightly coloured in red, orange or lime green and carry logos like “R” or “WY”. These are small, round and roughly six millimetres in diameter.
A user who consumes five to 20 WY tablets a day is capable of running, jumping and doing any tiresome work without feeling the least tiredness for two-three days, and that too without even a nap. This narcotic increases the strength and confidence of its users and there is no gainsaying its effect on the rate of crime, which would be hard to control. Moreover, these tablets have the wherewithal of creating ecstasy in its users, so a rise in incidents of rape cannot be overlooked.
It is said that the immediate feeling after consuming a tablet is one of light-headedness (and potential dizziness), followed by euphoria, increased physical activity, heightened alertness and increased wakefulness as a result of the central nervous system being affected. After several hours, the user experiences a comedown that results in decreased appetite and increased respiration and hypothermia that lead to irritability, insomnia, confusion, tremors, convulsions, anxiety, paranoia and aggressiveness. Other reported symptoms include lower back pain, possibly from damage to the liver or kidneys. While many countries have banned the sale of this tablet and its kind, Manipur is facing the menace for the first time.
Huge quantities of illicit narcotics can easily ride the new access routes of greater connectivity and blow up already existing issues of secured human health and wellbeing of society. It is believed that Myanmar is the largest producer of methamphetamine in the world, with the majority of Yaba found in Thailand being produced in Myanmar, particularly in the Golden Triangle and northeastern Shan state that borders Thailand, Laos and China.
Yaba is called bhulbhuliya in India and is typically prepared in pill form, which means these can be packed inside a plastic soda straw for easy transportation or in reusable “mint” containers.
WY or Yaba is commonly known among users as “World is yours”. These tablets contain 25-35 mg of methamphetamine, a very addictive stimulant, along with 45-65 mg of caffeine. At comparable doses, the effects of methamphetamine are fare more potent, longer lasting and more harmful than amphetamine to the cardiovascular and central nervous system. WY can be ingested, snorted, smoked or injected.
Myanmar is the highest illegal production centre of WY and supplies the maximum amount of easily available precursors like ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. Manipur, with access to the international border through Moreh town and thereby to Myanmar, is now becoming the targeted smuggling centre for WY, which should be a major cause for concern.
Bordering Myanmar to the east are Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland. Each state&’s data from National Aids Control Organisation reports show high numbers of HIV-related diseases and volumes of drug trafficking. Narcotics and contraband firearms are regularly trafficked across the unmanned border as the routes of western Myanmar are controlled by India&’s North-east insurgents.
In recent years, Manipur has witnessed huge quantities of contraband Pseudoephedrine Hydrochloride-content drugs, manufactured in India, being trafficked into Myanmar for processing narcotics, especially heroin. The thriving ethnic insurgency in Manipur, with its “tax structure” helps to exacerbate the problem. Pseudoephedrine is smuggled from New Delhi to Myanmar and China via Guwahati by conduits based in Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram
Traditionally, the Golden Triangle is a region between the borders of Myanmar, Laos and Thailand; a region famous for its opium production. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime&’s latest Southeast Asia Opium Survey 2013, opium cultivation in the Golden Triangle went up by 22 per cent in 2013 propelled by a 13 per cent growth in Myanmar. This registered a 26 per cent rise from 2012 in opium cultivation and yield.
A decade ago, the Golden Triangle supplied half the world&’s heroin, but drug barons backed by ethnic militias in Myanmar have turned to trafficking massive quantities of amphetamines and methamphetamines — which can be produced cheaply in small, hidden laboratories, without the need for acres of exposed land — and these narcotics now dominate the Myanmar part of the Triangle.
Insurgency in Myanmar has been funded by narcotics trafficking and cease-fires with the civilian government there have left rebel groups free to continue their manufacturing and smuggling without interference. Since insurgency based on purely ethnic issues is on the way out, high profits and access to the lucrative Thai and foreign markets now drive narcotics production and trafficking. The Myanmar government can do little to counter drug trafficking in the Golden Triangle as the traffickers are well organised Chinese syndicates operating from outside Myanmar.
Therefore, the first and foremost step that needs to be taken by India is to have an effective drug control mechanism that can guarantee this illicit trade is kept to the minimum so as to control adverse (illicit drugs) consequences. And if this control mechanism isn’t resorted to well in time, one can well imagine the long-term negative effects.
Even as the state police, narcotics, Excise and other civil society organisations have been trying their level best to combat the menace of various intoxicants like heroin, cannabis, SpasmoProxyvon capsules, N-10 and other similar psychoactive substances that contain amphetamine, of late the new menace created by the infamous WY tabletsa has begun to haunt the people of Manipur, not to forget serious implications for the rest of the North-east.
The writer is an Imphal-based freelance contributor.