Even as Talks Continue, Manipur Govt to Move MHA Seeking Replacement of Assam Rifles with State Cops

CNN-News18

Guwahati: Stating that the main job of Assam Rifles (AR) is to guard the borders, Manipur government spokesperson Th Radheshyam said the state cabinet has resolved to approach the Ministry of Home Affairs and formally request the latter to replace AR with the state police for manning the highways.

“Though the matter was not listed in the cabinet agenda on Friday, it was discussed and the cabinet members, led by Chief Minister N Biren Singh, decided to approach the Ministry of Home Affairs. We will also request the ministry to enable us in taking action against any personnel of the paramilitary force found involved in any crime,” said Radheshyam, a former Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, while acknowledging that there has been a decline in insurgency-related incidents over the past few years.

The decision came in the wake of a recent controversy when an IPS officer alleged that she was "physically assaulted, molested, harassed and abused" by AR personnel deployed at the Khudengthabi check-post along Imphal-Moreh highway in Tengnoupal district.

Though the Assam Rifles has dismissed all the allegations as "baseless, fabricated, false and malicious", the case is being investigated. AR officials have said the IPS officer "on official duty had entered Myanmar illegally, and bought suspicious and unidentified goods from across the border”.

Even as negotiations continue, the Manipur government believes the state police and other agencies can help check cross-border smuggling along the national highways.

“The state government has a good working relationship with Assam Rifles that has been aiding and assisting the civil administration, but they are primarily responsible for guarding the border,” Radheshyam said.

The biggest challenge for the Army and paramilitary forces was to get accepted in Manipur — continual efforts have been made to build confidence and strengthen the military’s relationship with the local population.

Meanwhile, regular operations are carried out — searches, raids and arrests backed by intelligence inputs take place in various districts and along the India-Myanmar border.

The border town of Moreh in Tengnoupal district is Manipur’s economic corridor, and some underground groups still try to gain control over the area.

India and Myanmar have a Free Movement Regime (FMR) that allows people living along the border to travel 16km into each other’s territory without visa. The 1,624km long border remains a viable option for smugglers, traffickers and at times, insurgents.

The incomplete fencing and artificial boundary line that passes through the different tribal villages on either side of the border has seen an assimilation of citizens of both countries. It has been easy for people to cross over, and they have been doing so since ages.

The unhindered movement, however, has escalated cross-border smuggling with the security forces recovering huge consignments of drugs, gold, wildlife products and timber on a regular basis, mostly from Tengnoupal district.

The Permanent Vehicle Check Post (PVCP) at Khudengthabi was established in the Nineties. According to official sources, about 300 vehicles and 2,000 passengers are frisked daily at the check-post. In 2019, the Assam Rifles had recovered contraband worth over Rs 500 crore in 125 incidents along the National Highway-102 from Moreh to Tengnoupal — the recoveries are thought to be the highest in the past five years.

Defence sources said illegal trade has taken a hit along the highway, thus giving a boost to legal trade in accordance with Centre’s Act East Policy.

AR had also conducted 34 drug awareness campaigns in Manipur last year. Huge consignments of drugs like World-is-Yours (WIY) tablet, heroine, brown sugar and crystalmyth, besides weapons have been recovered by security forces.

Sources said the WIY tablet that comes from Myanmar costs between 50p to Rs 20 in the neighbouring country, but once smuggled into Manipur through the porous border, it sells for as much as Rs 800 per tablet in Delhi on weekends.