Manipur's War on Drugs and the Government's Perception Problem

26 Dec, 2018    ·   5538

Anjali Gupta considers the Biren Singh's government's policy framework to deal with the complex challenges posed by the state's historic drug problem

Manipur’s Chief Minister N Biren Singh announced a 'war on drugs' soon after he assumed power in March 2017. Measures undertaken by the government so far include incarceration of drug peddlers and establishment of a fast-track court to try those accused. Further, the Indian Army and Assam Rifles have been approached to assist in the eradication of poppy cultivation. The government has been rehabilitating and encouraging poppy farmers to switch to alternative crops like lemon grass and avocado to replace poppy cultivation.

While Manipur has had a historic drug problem and several governments have attempted to battle its consequences, this commentary will look specifically at the three elements of the Biren Singh government's strategy - identified as supply-side, demand side, and crop replacement - adopted under the aegis of its so-called 'war on drugs'. It will argue that the current policy features some departures from the past, but until there is a change in perception in terms of how the drug issue itself is viewed by those making policy, no solution will be entirely appropriate.

Monitoring Supply

According to Abid Hussain, tribe secretary of the All Lilong Anti-Drug Association (ALADA),  while drugs like Spasmo Proxyvon and  Nitrosun 10 come from within the country, heroin and ‘World is Yours’ (WY) are brought in from Myanmar by peddlers in Manipur. Anti-narcotics officials have arrested 600 drug peddlers and destroyed 1,837 acres of poppy plantation over 36 places in Manipur in the past year. The sum total of poppy cultivated-area demolished could have produced opium valued at a total of INR 128 crore.

Under successive governments in Manipur, arrests under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (ND &PS) Act 1985 have only grown in the past two decades. The current government's decision to establish the long-demanded fast-track-court to facilitate speedy trial of offences relating to ND&PS is a positive development. Earlier there was a single fast-track court for both crimes against women and those related to ND&PS, which led to delays in judicial proceedings.

Whether eradication, interdiction or arrests, actions aimed at reducing supply-side motivations are focused on stopping the flow of drugs across or within the borders of the state. However, there is thus far no empirical evidence that proves if any of the supply-controlling measures has led to a reduction in the levels of opium cultivation. Since the price of opium cultivation is negligible compared to the high market price of refined drugs, refiners have had every incentive to offer a high enough price to farmers to revert to poppy cultivation.  

Diminishing Demand?

The implementation of the Scheme for Prevention for Alcoholism and Substance (Drugs) Abuse 2015, includes awareness generation, identification, counselling, treatment and rehabilitation of addicts. Theoretically, this was a good move because it expanded the scope of viewing illegal drug use from merely a criminal offence to also a health issue.

However, the implementation of this scheme has not brought about a change in reality. Rather, reports suggest an increase in the number of young addicts and injected drug users (IDUs) including women-related drug abuse cases in Manipur. There are around 22 rehabilitation centres in Manipur to treat drug addicts. Most of these are located in Imphal, which ignores the diffused spread of drug use across the state.  

The government has been advised to develop harm-reduction policies to replace the current zero-tolerance policy, and recognise the certainty that some addicts will continue to use drugs irrespective of the possibility of harsh penalties. A stronger community-based outreach programme would be a useful move in this regard, so the focus is not limited to curing addicts alone but also working towards community mobilisation against illegal drug use.

Crop Replacement Alternatives

Opium production is seen as a viable livelihood by farmers given the relative underdevelopment in Manipur. The Singh government's efforts to subsidise the supply of good quality seeds and providing expertise and financial support to farmers were taken by previous governments as well. However, continuing failures faced by the same set of steps suggest the existence of shortfalls through several governments.

Certain measures have been suggested to prevent past policy failures. These include provision of support to market the cultivated yield for better remunerative prices and preventing middleman exploitation, guaranteeing minimum support price for the yield, and finally, encouraging non-agricultural income generating activities in illicit cultivation areas to diversify sources of farmer income.

The Singh government has not yet taken up these recommendations in the present policy framework. In other words, Singh's initiative shifts focus from one crop to another while not taking into account proposals for more holistic measures forwarded by civil society groups. A lack of incentivisation to farmers equals a lack of movement from illicit crops to licit ones, which will ultimately only hinder Singh's 'war on drugs'.


Illegal drug abuse in Manipur is no longer just a health problem - it has evolved into a complex socio-political challenge. The Biren Singh government's initiative has made some policy departures from the past, but not enough to bring about tangible change. Under the present policy, seizures and arrests have become more harsh and rapid, a separate fast track court has been established, and lemon grass has been proposed as an alternative to rehabilitate poppy growers. However, the fixation with harsh criminalisation and abstinence-based rehabilitation remains. The importance of how a problem is viewed, thus, is as critical as finding an appropriate solution to the drug problem in Manipur.