Perils of Act East Policy to Manipur

                 THERE may be many native entrepreneurs, who are eager to explore the opportunities of striking trade relationships with their counterparts in south-east Asian countries under India’s Act East Policy. But at the same time, there could be no shortage of scholars and social activists who are equally concerned that the conflict situation in the landlocked and peripheral Manipur would aggravate further as unrestricted trade activities with the south-east Asian neighbours also entail free-and-easy people to people contacts. Once the Centre’s vision for improving trade ties with ASEAN nations materialises and gains momentum, there is every chance of increase in the transportation of banned items such as drugs and animal parts, which people in some East Asian countries believe to contain medicinal properties. With Manipur gaining notoriety as the transit point for both these banned items there is also the strong possibility that anti-social elements would be looking forward for bulkier shipment of contraband goods, concealed among the legalised trade items. For instance, people of this tiny state have been experiencing the social menace of substance abuse for the past many decades. While heroin used to be the easiest and choicest drug for the abusers, Manipur, in the last few years, seems to be evolving as the main route for smuggling of pseudoephedrine hydrochloride (PH) drugs into Myanmar from India for manufacturing heroin, WY (world is yours) and other party drugs in the infamous ‘golden triangle’.

             According to estimation of Manipur AIDS Control Society (MACS), there are over 40,000 HIV positive people in the state and majority of them are infected with the virus because of sharing needles while injecting drugs. On account of the state, owing to its close proximity with the ‘golden triangle’ remaining as the transit point for smuggling of both unrefined and finished drugs, there is no guarantee that India’s ambition for improving trade connectivity with different Southeast Asian countries will not help the drug lords to flourish in their trade and the youngsters of Manipur will fall prey to drug addiction of the worst kind. The problem of substance abuse and cases of HIV and AIDS surfaced in the 1980s in Manipur and the same menace continues to affect the society though at a comparatively lesser degree mainly due to concerted efforts of anti-drug campaigners. That WY is steadily emerging as a potent threat to the state’s youth could be guessed from the latest seizure of Rs 27 lakh worth party drugs from three persons. As the state is still vulnerable to drug smuggling, collective efforts involving the civil society organisations and the law enforcement agencies need to be sustained so that Manipuri youngsters are not sacrificed for the sake of economic growth of the country. Though policy makers are of the firm belief that sub-regional connectivity projects initiated under the Act East Policy will equally contribute to the economic development of the northeast region and address its problems of underdevelopment, absence of an effective mechanism to tackle the issue of substance abuse first before the vision takes shape will only spell doom for Manipur.

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