South Asia: Manipur Governor calls for concerted action to counter drug trafficking; extends support to UNODC


Imphal, Manipur/October 03, 2019: Expressing concern over the drug situation in Northeast India and neighbouring countries, the Governor of Manipur, Dr. Najma Heptulla called for stronger cooperation and coordination among law enforcement agencies in South Asia, in her inaugural address at the two-day regional conference convened by UNODC and the Government of Manipur in Imphal last week.

Responding to the illicit trafficking of opiates from Afghanistan, the regional workshop sought to sensitise South Asia's law enforcement agencies on the issue and foster collaborative efforts. The consultation was attended by over 40 officials from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka, besides UNODC experts and representative from state Governments of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur,Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim and Tripura.

"Concerted action is required to check production and supply, and reduce drug dependence. I call on UNODC Regional Office for South Asia to carry out capacity building of law enforcement agencies in the region to strengthen cooperation,"said Dr. Heptulla, while emphasizing the need to protect youth from drug use, crime and violence. The Governor of Manipur further suggested for the need of a more intensive study about the cultivation and consumption of drugs in each of the eight states to devise a response to the problem effectively. Heptulla also urged UNODC to establish a South Asia Regional Intelligence Sharing mechanism, in addition to integrated border management mechanisms to counter illicit trafficking.

As per UNODC's Afghanistan Opium Survey 2017, opium poppy cultivation in 2017 increased to an unprecedented record high of 328,000 hectares from an estimated 201,000 hectares in 2016 (an increase by 63%). It is estimated that 7,600-7,900 tons of opium produced in 2017 were potentially available for producing some 550-900 tons of heroin of export quality. 

The consequential increase in trafficking of opiates to different parts of the world and availability of increased amount of funds in the hands of several insurgent groups active in the region pose a serious challenge to law enforcement community worldwide. While a bulk of the Afghan opiates are smuggled out of the country via the 'Balkan Route' and the 'Northern Route', significant amounts of Afghan heroin is also smuggled to South Asia and other destinations via the 'Southern Route'.

The workshop built on the international consultation hosted by UNODC in Chandigarh last year, which called for holistic responses to the drug problem, with focus on both demand reduction as well as supply reduction.

Welcoming the initiative, Mr. Sergey Kapinos, Representative, UNODC Regional Office for South Asia, said, "South Asia is both a transit and destination point for Afghan opiates. This has serious security implications for the region. It is a well-established fact that drugs are directly linked to the financing of crime and terrorism." He added, "This workshop is part of UNODC's ongoing regional project to strengthen drug law enforcement capacities in South Asia. It will feature in-depth discussions on the threats arising from drugs trafficking through the Southern Route, as well as exchange of concrete ideas on developing a joint action framework to address the issues."

Dr. Atul Ambekar, Professor, National Drug Dependence Treatment Centre, AIIMS and Ms. B Radhika, Deputy Director General, Narcotics Control Bureau provided an overview of the drug situation in India, with informative presentations focused on both the law enforcement and health perspectives of the issue.

Addressing the valedictory session, Chief Minister N Biren Singh said about 4,897 acres of poppy cultivation had been destroyed in the State in the last two years. Informing that the Manipur Government has also launched a crackdown on illegal drug production and processing units, he stressed the need for effective collaboration between agencies, communities and countries towards the shared objective of a drug-free society.

South Asia continues to face a multitude of drug control challenges that are exacerbated, in part, by its geographical location between the two main illicit opiate-producing and trafficking regions of the world, namely the Golden Triangle and the Golden Crescent. South Asia remains a target for traffickers smuggling illicitly produced opiates from Afghanistan to Europe and North America along the "alternate" southern route.

Opiates, cannabis and amphetamine-type stimulants remain the main substances of concern in the region, with record levels of cannabis herb seized in Bangladesh and India during 2017. There has been a thirtyfold increase in seizures of methamphetamine pills (known as "yaba" in countries in South Asia) in Bangladesh since 2011, and the amounts of illicitly produced opiates seized throughout the region have been increasing.