On the eve of International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking (June 26), the Nagaland State Excise department has once again emphasised the crucial need for a collective effort to eradicate the drug menace in the State. While the appeal seems generic, recent trends indicate a worrying resurgence in drug use and substance abuse in the State and must be heeded.
In December 2022, this column highlighted the issue and proposed a comprehensive strategy focused on controlling supply, reducing demand, and providing holistic rehabilitation, citing a report by The Morung Express. Besides, it stressed the importance of implementing local-specific measures concurrently with the Government of India’s broader policies to effectively combat drug trafficking and abuse across the country.
Although the exact scale of drug usage and sales remains undocumented, anecdotal evidence and periodic updates from law enforcement agencies suggest a humongous problem. Take the case of Nagaland Excise and Prohibition Department's Annual Administrative Report (AAR) 2022-23. It highlighted that during the reporting year, apart from huge amount of Indian Made Foreign Liquor and Beer (over 2.24 lakh), the destruction of seized contraband articles was massive. These articles included 2150 kilograms of poppy straw, 4.37 kilograms of heroin, 310 kilograms of ganja, 22,557 bottles of cough syrup, and over 7 lakh assorted capsules and tablets. While the contraband articles may have been accumulated over time, the magnitude is telling.
Incidentally, the drugs seized by various drug enforcement agencies in Nagaland from January to September 2022 alone were estimated to be worth Rs 106.24 crore on the illicit global market. Besides, on November 30, 2022, the Nagaland Police and Excise Department jointly conducted what was touted as the largest-ever destruction of banned drugs, disposing of over Rs 41 crore worth of seized drugs in Kohima.
However, officials involved in tackling such issues concur that many illegal substances may have eluded detection due to porous borders, lack of personnel and other technical issues.
During the International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking in 2022, an Intelligence Officer from the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), Zonal, Guwahati, specifically mentioned that the Free Movement Regime (FMR) between Myanmar and India has turned Nagaland into a transit route for drug trafficking. Similar concerns were shared this year too.
Meanwhile, the Excise Department's AAR 2022-23 pointed out that the department, established on December 1, 1963, is one of the oldest departments in the State but faces a severe shortage of staff. The department is tasked to enforce Nagaland Excise Act, 1967, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act, 1985, and the Nagaland Liquor in the State.
There are only 336 Enforcement Personnel, which is practically far too less strength for effective enforcement, the report rued, while at the Directorate, Districts & Sub-Divisional offices, “contingency paid employees” are being engaged due to lack of personnel.
Moreover, despite the escalating trends of drug abuse, trafficking, and seizures, the Nagaland State Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Policy remains in cool storage, despite receiving Cabinet nod in 2016.
Given these converging factors, drug abuse and illicit trafficking pose a clear and present danger in Nagaland, if not already. It is imperative that those in positions of power must wake up from their stupor take proactive measures and formulate effective policies to tackle the issue before it spirals out of control. The general public must reinforce the effort understanding that mere prayers or vigilante-style justice will not provide the effective solution.
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