Manipur - In a decisive move against illegal opium cultivation in Manipur, the Indian Defense Minister, Rajnath Singh, has directed the Indian Air Force to conduct an aerial campaign to eliminate illegal opium farms across the state.
The operation aims to eradicate illegal opium crops in the southern regions of Manipur, bordering Myanmar, by the end of October. Drones are also being employed to disperse chemicals in remote areas to ensure maximum effectiveness.
This crackdown comes as the Indian government takes a stern stance against illicit opium cultivation, which is seen as a leading cause of violence in the state. Manipur shares a 400-kilometer-long border with Myanmar, and only a small fraction of this border is fortified, allowing the Golden Triangle - a notorious drug trafficking route connecting Myanmar, Laos, and Thailand to northeastern India - to thrive.
The recent surge in ethnic clashes in the region is directly linked to opium cultivation and drug trafficking activities. Efforts are being made to put an end to this violence and protect the livelihoods of indigenous communities heavily reliant on opium farming.
One of the immediate triggers for the unrest in Manipur was the inclusion of the Kuki tribe in the Scheduled Tribe (ST) category, which led to opposition from the Meitei community residing in the hills. The conflict has also affected the livelihoods of hill communities, who have relied on opium cultivation for generations.. Churachandpur, a border town, has been a focal point of violence since May, situated approximately 60 kilometers from Myanmar's Chin state, known for extensive opium cultivation.
The Manipur government has been actively pursuing the destruction of illegal opium crops. According to data from the Narcotics and Affairs of the Border (NAB), 18,664 acres of opium farms have been destroyed from 2017 to 2023, with 14,359.4 acres eradicated between 2017 and 2022. In 2022-23, 4,305 acres of illegal opium cultivation have already been demolished, with 787.3 acres eradicated as of March this year. A total of 16 village chiefs, 62 illegal opium cultivators, and 2 investors have been arrested since 2020.
To strengthen the fight against opium cultivation, Manipur Chief Minister N. Biren Singh has formed a joint committee with the Narcotics Control Bureau and NAB to survey and eliminate illegal opium cultivation. The use of drones is being employed to combat chemical distribution in hard-to-reach areas, where it may be difficult for officials to access.
The collaboration with the Indian Air Force underscores the seriousness with which the Indian government is addressing the issue of illegal opium cultivation in Manipur. The operation aims not only to curb the drug trade but also to restore peace in the region and to provide alternative livelihoods for opium farmers.