Police officer Brinda Thounoujam
An affidavit filed in the Manipur High Court by a Manipur Police Service officer has shone a rare light on how things work in the state. The case involves a drug heist in 2018 in which a police team led by officer Thounoujam Brinda arrested alleged drug baron Lhukosei Zou and recovered 2,80,000 methamphetamine tablets called “World is Yours” worth crores, 4.5 kg of heroin, and Rs 57 lakh in cash. “As the crackdown started the arrested accused revealed drugs were hidden at different places, including the quarters of an ADC (Autonomous District Council) member at Lamphel. Just as we were about to enter the quarter, a Whatsapp call came from Moirangthem Asnikumar, a BJP Vice-President and he asked about any development in drug busting”, Brinda has stated in her affidavit. “I told him I was in the middle of an operation and he made me speak to the Chief Minister over the phone”. The CM asked her to go ahead.
The ADC member turned out to be the Chairman of the Chandel Autonomous District Council, in the hills of Manipur. “After the drugs were found at his quarter, he asked me to allow him to call the Director General of Police (DGP) Manipur and the Chief Minister, that I did not permit”, Brinda has stated in her affidavit. The next morning, the BJP V-P Asnikumar was at her house. “He told me that the arrested ADC member turned out to be Chief Minister’s wife Olice’s right-hand man in Chandel and that Olice was furious about his arrest,” Brinda has stated. The CM, Biren Singh, according to Brinda’s affidavit, now wanted the man released. Brinda refused. He was soon back, to say the CM and his wife were furious at her refusal. She held her ground. The man left, but was back again to say that “CM and Olice were adamant that I release ADC Chairman under any condition”.
Brinda told them that she didn’t need the job, and had returned to the police, from which she had resigned, only because of requests from “New Delhi”. It so happens that she is the daughter in law of Rajkumar Meghen, the legendary chief of the Manipuri insurgent group the United National Liberation Front. She had returned to her policing job after some sort of arrangement worked out by Indian intelligence. Upon her return, she was assigned as Additional Superintendent of Police to the Narcotics and Affairs of Border (NAB) wing of the police. She had made life miserable for drug traffickers in the state.
Manipur borders Myanmar, which is part of the “Golden Triangle”, a hot-spot of the world drug trade. The Shan, Kachin and Wa areas of northern Myanmar, which are largely outside the control of the government of Myanmar, lie close to it. Warlords and drug lords do business with their agents on this side of the border. Governments come and go but the international trade in YaBa and heroin, its path smoothed by copious corruption, continues to flourish.
On 14th December 2018, according to her affidavit, Brinda was called to a meeting with the state DGP by her boss, the NAB SP. “There the DGP asked us where was the charge sheet of the ADC case. I told him it had reached the court. He told us, ‘The Hon’ble CM wants the charge sheet removed from the court’. I told DG, ‘It is not possible as the charge sheet is already in the court.’ The DG, according to her affidavit, ordered them to send the investigating officer in the case to him, and remove the charge sheet from the documents submitted to court. The following day, a senior advocate along with the then Imphal West SP reached the court and asked the Special Public Prosecutor to hand them the charge sheet. The court officials refused. This was recorded in a letter by the judge to the DGP and Secretary of the Bar Council of Manipur.
She alleges further subsequent efforts to have the charge sheet removed, which failed as it had already been entered in the Case Information System (CIS). Matters then moved to Zou’s bail hearing. It was now March 2020. In the intervening year the previous judge of the special court dealing with drugs cases had been replaced with a new incumbent. The new judge, after several hearings, on 21st May 2020, granted interim bail to the accused on medical grounds. The judge also passed adverse remarks against Brinda for threatening the witness, failure to observe the court’s decorum – she had been present at the hearings – and lack of supervision from higher officers. Reacting to these events, Brinda made an angry post on Facebook using expletives, for which she was charged with contempt of court. Her affidavit to the Manipur High Court is in connection with that case.
The amount of money involved in the illegal drug trade through Manipur runs into thousands of crores annually. Drug busts worth hundreds of crores each are routinely reported in the media. The involvement of members of police has been reported in some instances in the past. A number of police officers up to the rank of Deputy Superintendent of Police were arrested for drug trafficking in recent years by none other than Brinda. In the present case, the key accused, Lhukosei Zou, who is allegedly a drug baron, is also a politician, and a funder of political leaders. With Manipur already in turmoil before this, the latest event involving a number of controversial figures is bound to have an impact on the politics of the state.
UPDATE: MANIPUR POLICE VERSION
Subsequent to publication of this and other articles related to the court affidavit, the Manipur Police issued a clarification stating that “there has been no pressure from any quarter to the Investigating Officers” in the case in which Lhukhosei Zou was arrested. “It is further hereby clarified that Manipur Police Department has been working sincerely and relentlessly in the ongoing war against drugs”, it added. “The allegations levelled by Smt.Th.Brinda, MPS, as published in some local dailies are totally baseless and intended to malign the image of the officers whose names have been mentioned in the newspaper publication of 14/07/2020. Timely submission of the charge sheet and other legal action taken up in the course of investigation of the case were only possible through professional and dedicated approach adopted by the Manipur Police Department”, the statement issued by the Manipur Police Public Relations Officer said.