Drug menace unites all Mizoram parties; unfenced Bangla border in focus

The drug menace, which reportedly killed over 250 people, mostly youths, in the last five years, has become a foremost issue in the forthcoming November 7 Assembly elections in Mizoram
Drug menace unites all Mizoram parties; unfenced Bangla border in focus

AIZAWL: The drug menace, which reportedly killed over 250 people, mostly youths, in the last five years, has become a foremost issue in the forthcoming November 7 Assembly elections in Mizoram, which shares an unfenced 510 km and 318 km International Border with Myanmar and Bangladesh respectively.

Tripura's 856 km border with Bangladesh and Mizoram's 510 km and Manipur's 400 km unfenced frontiers with Myanmar have turned into an easy corridor for the illegal drug trade in northeast India. Apart from illicit drugs, foreign cigarettes, gold, arms and ammunition, exotic animals, and areca nuts are often smuggled from Myanmar into the northeastern states.

In the 2018 election, liquor prohibition was the dominant issue in the state, but this time the drug menace, its rampant smuggling from neighbouring Myanmar and its control mechanism are the major issues in poll-bound Mizoram. Since 2019, Mizoram has been a dry state, after the incumbent Mizo National Front (MNF) Government implemented its pre-poll promise and stopped the controlled sale of liquor introduced by the previous Congress Government in January 2015.

However, in August last year, the government allowed locally-grown grapes to be processed and sold in the market liberally, following outrage over seizure of large quantities of locally-processed wine. Prohibition of other liquor continues, except under some government-stipulated strict conditions.

After the announcement of the election schedule of Mizoram on October 9 by the Election Commission, various law enforcing agencies have seized drugs valued at around Rs 50 crore and arrested many drug peddlers while the Assam Rifles, Mizoram Police, Excise and Narcotics Department and Customs have seized drugs and various other contraband worth over Rs 300 crore during the current year since January. Apart from Indian citizens, several Myanmar nationals were also arrested in connection with drug smuggling.

According to the security establishment, tablets of methamphetamine (also called yaba tablet or party tablet) are the main drugs smuggled from Myanmar. These small red coloured tablets contain a mix of methamphetamine and caffeine and are misused as high-dosage drugs in Bangladesh and other neighbouring countries, besides India. Various types of cough syrups containing codeine phosphate are used as a common drug illegally in Bangladesh. Eastern Mizoram's mountainous Champhai district, which shares international borders with Myanmar and an inter-state border with Manipur, is the main route of smuggling of drugs and other contrabands.

BJP President JP Nadda released the party's 'Vision Document' on October 27 and its first promise is if voted to power, the saffron party would launch 'Operation Drug-Free Mizoram' to protect the future of the people, especially the youth. Mizoram state Congress media cell chief, Lalremruata Renthlei said that the drug menace is on the rise in Mizoram under the MNF regime and "we are losing an entire generation to drugs due to MNF's negligence and incompetence." More than 250 young people died while thousands of families have been badly affected because of the drug menace in the last five years, he told IANS and promised to take strong steps against drugs if the Congress returns to power in the state.

Another Opposition party, Zoram People's Movement (ZPM), which has emerged as a big challenger to the Congress, BJP and the MNF in the state elections, has promised to end the drug menace in Mizoram. ZPM President and former IPS officer-turned-politician Lalduhoma, who served as the security in-charge to late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for three years from 1982, said that if voted to power, the ZPM government would take drastic steps against the drug menace and would motivate people to shun them.

"Unemployment might be one of the causes of the rising drug menace in Mizoram," Lalduhoma said. With a population of 12 lakh, India's second least-populated state after Sikkim, Mizoram has a huge problem of drug abuse as influx from Myanmar and Bangladesh has made cheap drugs available in the state.

In 2019, after its impressive win, the MNF Government passed the Mizoram Liquor Prohibition Bill, prohibiting manufacture, sale and consumption of liquor. Led by Chief Minister Zoramthanga, the MNF had promised prior to the 2018 Assembly election that it would bring liquor prohibition.

According to government officials, the law caused an annual revenue loss of Rs 70 crore. Drugs versus alcohol have been a raging debate in Mizoram. The Congress which ruled the state for 10 years until 2018 admitted that lifting prohibition hurt the sentiments of the Church and this led to the party's loss in the 2018 Assembly polls.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi during his recent two-day (October 16-17) visit to Mizoram had said that drugs were spreading rampantly in Mizoram and 259 young lives had been snuffed out by drug abuse. "Young people of Mizoram are not getting jobs so they are getting frustrated and turning to drugs. In the last five years the MNF government has given only 2000 jobs," said Gandhi, who during his visit to Mizoram interacted with a leading NGO leader V Lalnunthara, who is the president of 'Foundation For Drug-Free Mizoram,' to assess the severity of drug abuse in the state. "It is not alcohol versus drugs. Low-priced drugs have been available ever since the refugees from Myanmar have started flocking to Mizoram after the Army coup in that country. Many Myanmarese were also arrested with drugs," Lalnunthara said.

Around 35,000 people from Myanmar have taken refuge in Mizoram since the military coup in February 2021 while another 1,000 people from the Chittagong Hill Tracts of southeast Bangladesh had also come to Mizoram. The Myanmar and Bangladeshi tribals belong to the Chin-Kuki-Zo community and have ethnic ties with the Mizos of Mizoram According to Lalnunthara, in 1984 one person died due to heroin consumption, since then around 1,794 people have died due to drug abuse. In 2022, as many as 43 people had died and this year till now 58 people have lost their lives, he said.

Lalnunthara said that his NGO is involving various institutions and has been organising awareness programmes frequently against drug abuse. Elections to the 40-member Mizoram Assembly would be held on Tuesday, and the results will be declared on December 3. Mizoram's 8,51,895 eligible voters will decide the electoral fate of 174 candidates, including 16 women. (IANS)

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