Illicit drug trade along Golden Triangle & India’s North East

The recently held official-level talks in China for establishing the Bangladesh, China, India, Myanmar (BCIM) economic corridor augurs well for the development and prosperity of the north-eastern region. The economic corridor will help the development of north-east region by increasing its external trade with India’s eastern Asian neighbours, thus giving rise to increased economic activity and employment. However, the improved transportation facilities in Indo-Myanmar region due to the BCIM economic corridor can also have serious implications for north east India due to illicit drug trade along the so-called Golden Triangle, a region along the borders of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos known for its opium cultivation.

In previous years, the Golden Triangle region had witnessed almost exclusive production of opium, from which heroin was manufactured and trafficked to various parts of the world. In recent times, the Myanmar part of this region has been dominated by manufacture of drugs such as amphetamines and methamphetamines, which can be produced cheaply in small, hidden laboratories, without the need for acres of exposed land.

Needless to say, consumption of all these drugs is already high in the north-east, especially states bordering Myanmar such as Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram. But with the eventual opening up of BCIM corridor this consumption could go up several times, leading to increased drug addiction and other socio-economic problems which come with it. Increased availability of drugs can also lead to higher incidence of HIV-related diseases in the region. More number of youth would fall in the trap of drug addiction, thus leading to decreased economic productivity in the future. The problem of drug trafficking will be exacerbated by the fact that India-Myanmar border regions are de-facto controlled by the insurgents, thus making it difficult for state border agencies to stop illicit trade from outside.

As a counter to the potential threats outlined above, India should step up its security in future along the proposed BCIM corridor, especially strengthening the illicit drug screening mechanisms. It should also establish institutional mechanisms with China, Myanmar and Thailand to counter illicit trafficking. Finally, schools in the region should provide appropriate instruction to students to prevent them from taking up drugs. Improved and more rehabilitation centres for drug addicts would also go a long way in bringing drug users back to the mainstream of society.

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