Against a common threat: Even as chartered flights are ferrying betel leaves instead of medicines, Manipur seems united in the fight against COVID - 19

Yambem Laba *

 COVID-19 :: Huge consignment of betel leaves seized at  Bir Tikendrajit International Airport, Imphal :: April 04 2020
COVID-19 :: Huge consignment of betel leaves seized at Imphal International Airport on April 04 2020 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam

Jitendra Singh, Union minister (independent charge) for development of the North- eastern region said that the Centre was ready to arrange cargo flights to the North - east at short notice. On 4 April, when two commercial airliners namely, Spicejet and Air Asia landed at Imphal’s Tulihal Airport, people heaved a sigh of relief.

But when the cargo started rolling down the ramps of the two A-320 Air buses, the few people present there were surprised. Instead of boxes containing hydroxylchloroquine tablets, personal protection equipment or ventilators, only gunny bales started filling up the space.

And there were around 280 bales in all, weighing approximately 10 matric tonnes. Once opened, it was discovered that the bales contained only betel leaves for making paan and a consignment of tobacco zarda. The Spice Jet aircraft landed at about 9:30 in the morning and the Air Asia flight followed at around 12:30 pm.

Soon, Airport Police Station personnel, under officer-in-charge inspector Bobby Singh, seized the consignment and handed it over to Singjamei Police Station. The news of the arrival of betel leaves instead of medicines to combat the Covid-19 pandemic spread like wildfire through social media and next day, all the local dailies carried news about this consignment of pleasure.

The Manipuri Students Federation met chief minister N. Biren Sigh and questioned him about the necessity to import betel leaves. They demanded that the seized consignment be destroyed immediately. Soon the CM faced more flak from other student organisations and civil society groups.

Cornered with the unprecedented turn of events, Biren Singh soon issued a statement saying that while betel leaves are not a contraband item according to a state government order, the import of all non-essential items have been stopped.

Only those items having prior permission from the district magistrates concerned can be permitted to be brought in. He also added that his government shares the same anguish and assured that appropriate action would be taken against those involved.

Speaking to this writer, inspector Potshangbam Sanjoy, officer - in - Charge of Singjamei Police Station, stated that five persons involved with the grey trade in betel leaves had been arrested - they included Laishram Anil (27), Chingakham Surchandra (24), Irengbam Surjit (40) and Laishram Sanatomba (26).

It was also learnt that the consignment was booked in the name of one Thingujam Kamo (48) from Calcutta and that Anil had come to collect it. He managed to ship out about 10 bales before cops got wind of it.

According to the inspector they have been charged under Section 188/269/270/34 of the Indian Penal Code. The Singjamei Police Station has 56 bales of betel leaves in its custody while 213 are still lying in the cargo apron of the airport.

The economics behind the betel trade is mind - boggling. In normal times, it is believed to be under the control of a major insurgent group of Manipur and movements are closely monitored by them. One bundle of betel leaves, locally called a phai, costs about Rs. 1500 in the market in West Bengal and used to sell for about Rs. 2000. But now it is being sold for Rs. 7000 and each basket holds about nine such bundles.

The current market value of the seized items comes to more than Rs 1.7 crore against normal value of Rs. 5 lakh. After having paid Rs. 20 lakh for chartering a flight, they are still left with more than Rs. One crore in profit.

Such is the demand for paan in Manipur that one lady told me she had stood in the queue to get betel leaves from 3 am and sold about Rs. 10,000 worth of paan within a few hours after daybreak.

The trade in betel leaves apart, there is some good news on the flight against the novel coronavirus in Manipur. The first case of the young girl who had tested positive upon return from the United Kingdom and was admitted to the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences has now tested negative twice and is upon the point of being discharged from the isolation ward.

The other person who tested positive upon return from Nizamuddin congregation is now undergoing treatment the Regional Institute of Medical Science. Yet another girl who recently returned from China had come into Manipur via Moreh on the land route with Myanmar, and she was tested but found to be negative.

On the flipside, there has been an outrage not only in Manipur but also across the North-eastern region as a Manipuri girl student studying in Delhi University was spat upon with paan in Mukherjee Nagar in New Delhi. She lodged a complaint with the police.

Speaking to this writer, she said that the culprit had been arrested but released on bail thereafter. He soon sent word that he was willing to touch her feet and seek forgiveness to have the FIR against him withdrawn. But she said that it was unacceptable and would see him in courts if required.

In yet another case, a Manipuri girl was spat upon by an unknown person with paan in Mumbai who called her “coronavirus”. Although a hue and cry was raised by the community and other NGOs, the Mumbai Police is still unable to nab the culprit.

Back home, the Covid-19 scare has brought out the best people across the state. A village in Ukhrul district returned two bags of rice to the district authorities stating that they already have enough in stock.

And in yet another incident of love towards their brethren, villagers of Konsakhul village in Kangpokpi district went about distributing vegetables for free to their neighbouring villages.

The covid-19 pandemic response has elicited praise from the proscribed Revolutionary Peoples Front, whose arm wing, the People’s Liberation Army, has been at “war” with Manipur Police with each side having claimed many lives over the years.

In a press statement issued by the publicity secretary of the RPF Roben Khuman, it lauded health workers, state authorities for sealing the borders promptly and the police for effectively enforcing the lockdown.

The other prominent insurgent group of Manipur, the United National Liberation Front had called all money lenders, private banks and landlords to waive off interests and rents in view of the pandemic. It ws said in a press statement issued by M. Shakhen, publicity director of UNLF.

Even though pharmacists have sounded a warning that live - saving drugs are running out of stock and chartered flights are ferrying betel leaves instead of medicines, Manipur seems to be united in the fight against Covid-19

* Yambem Laba wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on April 18, 2020 .

* Comments posted by users in this discussion thread and other parts of this site are opinions of the individuals posting them (whose user ID is displayed alongside) and not the views of We strongly recommend that users exercise responsibility, sensitivity and caution over language while writing your opinions which will be seen and read by other users. Please read a complete Guideline on using comments on this website.

  • Mova Cave, Hunpung, Ukhrul #3 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 20 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • COVID-19 : Impact in Manipur :: News Timeline
  • Irawat the Legend #1
  • Leishangthem Dhanachandra ..rears Sareng
  • Economic devpt & climate deterioration?
  • Detachment without Resentment
  • Wishful thinking for end to election-money
  • Drugs & manufacturing units within State
  • Kanglasha Kaba Khanba removal #2: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 19 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • Sep 20, a crucial week for Nagaland
  • Lord's echo :: Poem
  • Jobs opening at Changerline, Imphal
  • In search of roots
  • Opposition cosy up as poll date nears
  • The end of RN Ravi's saga
  • 27th August 1965 : Birth of students force
  • COVID-19 Status 18 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • World's largest adult vaccination program
  • 2nd State Level Yogasana Sports C'ship
  • Just survival is enough :: Poem
  • Add oats to your beauty regime
  • Thri Kappi Sanaba @Andro #1 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 17 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • Legal Campaign [17 Sep] : Gallery
  • Demise of Padma Shri Thongram Haridas
  • Legal Awareness & Outreach Campaign
  • Changes that the time brings :: Poem
  • AMWJU Foundation Day [16 Sep] : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 16 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • Mapping the Changemakers of NE India
  • Will inclusion centrestage at Equality Forum
  • World ozone day & the living beings
  • Understanding CAT
  • Eternally struggling Manipuri women
  • Posers on the Interlocutor
  • Zeilad Lake, Tamenglong #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 15 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • Report on 54th Engineers Day 2021
  • Social Media & Political Campaigning
  • What if ? :: Poem
  • Condolence prayer for Oscar Fernandes
  • Virus threat not over yet
  • The virus is still out there!
  • RIMS, Imphal #1 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 14 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • Nagaland CM Rio calls Ravi 'genuine' man
  • Role of media in combating Covid
  • One day business shut-down in Dimapur
  • The warning bell is ringing loud & clear
  • Anxiety over arrival of train service
  • Choosing candidate the first step
  • Raghu Leishangthem : Manipuri Poet Biodata
  • COVID-19 Status 13 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • Memo to CM : Inclusion of Meetei in ST
  • Without you :: Poem
  • Lessons from the pandemic
  • ICS (IAS) viva voce of Khushwant Singh
  • Blaming predecessor till near end of term
  • Questioning truce pacts with others
  • ILP & COVID checking @Jirighat : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 12 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • Webinar: Higher Edn & Career in USA & UK
  • Prostate Cancer: Know its warning signals
  • Naga Peace Process :: News Timeline
  • Hope heals crisis :: Poem
  • AFSPA in NE amid peace accords
  • TSE completes 22 years : 1999 to 2021
  • Pathetic Road @Imphal-Jiri : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 11 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • National Lok Adalat in High Court of Manipur
  • On tourism in the Northeast
  • The Dement Corona Avoids :: Poem
  • The prism of relationships
  • Reappraisal of early Meitei settlement
  • COVID-19 Status 10 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • Royal Charter Day celebrated
  • Poshan Abhiyaan : A people's movement
  • MTech in Defence Tech at Amrita Univ
  • Ethno-Veterinary medicine in livestock
  • Power dept employees eyeing soft target
  • Taking a look at issues in 2012, 2017
  • Meetei Leikai @, Silchar, Assam #1: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 09 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • The uncle conundrum
  • Himalayan Day : Science & Knowledge
  • Pandemic : changing dynamics of preschool
  • Common factors that enhance beauty
  • Another peace deal sans solution..
  • Rolling up sleeves ahead of Assembly polls
  • Development, Ethnicity & Gender : Book Rvw
  • COVID-19 Status 08 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • World Suicide Prevention Day 2021
  • 'bob World' : Mobile application launched
  • Glimpses of Love :: Poem
  • How much more ordeal can Afghans take?
  • Tall claims on reforming agriculture sector
  • The commandments from WHO
  • Burma refugees yes or no ?
  • COVID-19 Status 07 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • Biotechnology Grant (BIG) for startups
  • Teaching as a career in India
  • Epitome of impeccable humanity & humility
  • Role of CSOs vital in preventing virus
  • Disturbing high TPR in some hill districts
  • Fine Arts Exhibition MU #3: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 06 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • Immune boosting for lactating women
  • Give up on fear not dreams !
  • Stop plantation of Palm Oil Trees in NE
  • Another Perspective of Life :: Poem
  • ..right recipe for bitter electioneering
  • Debate over ST status for Meiteis
  • Jadonang in History :: Part 2
  • COVID-19 Status 05 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • Athokpam Kholchandra : Dr Kamal Kabiratna
  • Remembering Lord Krishna appearance day
  • Sustainable livestock farming
  • After 9 years, thirst to serve unchanged
  • Disturbing TPR in some districts
  • Saikhom Mirabai: Olympics #2: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 04 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • World Sexual Health Day in Manipur
  • Save The Peace : Conf on Indo-Naga peace
  • Teachers, I salute thee !
  • The Art of Living :: Poem
  • Bongbal Kholen, Kangpokpi #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 03 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • Manipur Art Festival 2021 canceled
  • Towards a new Manipur Budget 2022-23
  • Inauguration of NPF Manipur Head Office
  • Natural facial at home for glowing skin
  • School yearning to resume normal class
  • The uproar over Urea 'shortage'
  • Chaklam Khongchat Numit #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 02 Sep : Govt of Manipur
  • Pundit Raja Atombapu : Doyen of journalism
  • Friends :: Poem
  • Meeting report at Cachar, Assam
  • Indigenous peoples & a new social contract
  • Pseudo-indigene permanent threat to native
  • Heavy rush for admission to Class XI
  • Jadonang in History :: Part 1
  • Memorial Stone & Shaheed Minar : Gallery
  • An officer and a gentleman
  • Mass production of biofertilisers
  • Kannappa Naayanaar - World 1st Eye Donor
  • Will election ruin gains made in virus fight
  • Signing off August with lowest TPR
  • Keidoubagi Kidoino on COVID #3: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 31 Aug : Govt of Manipur
  • September Calendar for Year 2021 : Tools
  • Revisiting all alphabets of Article 371
  • Abdication :: Poem
  • Need a softer approach to language issue
  • 2022 polls: Tough task for Congress
  • Party hopping antics before the election
  • Death Anniv: Shimreingam Shaiza: Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 30 Aug : Govt of Manipur
  • Khangminashi Lecture VIII : Electric Vehicle
  • Ardent Gardener :: Poem
  • Vision Correction doesn't need a doctor
  • No place for Meetei in Heritage Museum?
  • Ordinary testing rate can't beat the virus
  • Why not make it a poll call
  • 90th Martyr Day- Haipou Jadonang : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 29 Aug : Govt of Manipur
  • Cycle Rally- Natl Sports Day, MU : Gallery
  • Do prayers have the power to heal!
  • Observance of National Sports Day
  • Freedom fighter's mail
  • Frauds feasting on pandemic situation
  • From 'corona' to rousing welcome
  • Meitei ancestors lived in Koubru hills
  • COVID-19 Status 28 Aug : Govt of Manipur
  • Senior Fellowship @ICAR-NEH, Imphal
  • What ails the hill tribals of Manipur
  • Why ? I wonder :: Poem
  • Establishment of Natl Police Univ in Manipur
  • Olympics : Games and Beyond
  • Chaklam Khongchat Numit #1 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 27 Aug : Govt of Manipur
  • Manipur Post-COVID: need to emerge strong
  • Abstract :: Poem
  • Seminar on Yogic Science
  • Milk make up
  • Visit of central team amid urea shortage
  • Looking beyond the next 4 months
  • Laonii Fest of Poumai #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 26 Aug : Govt of Manipur
  • Governor-designate La Ganesan : Gallery
  • Applications invited from CSOs from NE
  • Covid, Microorganisms, Immunity & food
  • Wishes to Prahlad Ji & Ranjan Ji
  • Setting the stage for India's Gold Quest
  • Assembly over, focus on curbing virus
  • Low number of tests, low new cases
  • Phuba Khuman, Senapati #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 25 Aug : Govt of Manipur
  • Insects @ Charoi Pandongba, Saitu : Gallery
  • No lament, but willingness :: Poem
  • Love - An ever evolving reality
  • Unlock, poll process right recipe for virus
  • Looking beyond the proposed ADC Bill
  • Nata Sankirtan in Manipuri society
  • COVID-19 Status 24 Aug : Govt of Manipur
  • Workshop @MU : Trend in Biological Science
  • Manipur Assembly session adjourned
  • HAC approved ADC Bill 2021 imbroglio
  • Fellowship for BIRAC SPARSH program
  • 13th August @BT Park #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 Status 23 Aug : Govt of Manipur
  • Motsillaba Mingsel : Grand Jury Best Film
  • Youth dealing with adversity during pandemic
  • Pure lifeblood :: Poem
  • Skilling India, a must to encash dividend
  • Virus cases stabilising after curfew lift
  • Pointing fingers at some 'hill leaders'
  • Manipur Olympians reception : Gallery
  • Mary Kom reception- Aug 20: Gallery
  • Hijam Gourashyam : Manipur Sahitya
  • 13th August @BT Park #1 : Gallery
  • Sushila Likmabam reception- Aug 18: Gallery
  • S Nilakanta / P Sushila [Aug 11] #2 : Gallery
  • Pebam Chittaranjan Mangang : Gallery
  • 13th August by CSOs : Gallery
  • 13th August @Thangal Complex : Gallery
  • 13th August @Hicham Yaicham Pat : Gallery
  • RK Sanayaima on 13th August : Gallery
  • Corona, Corona all the way
  • S Nilakanta / P Sushila [Aug 11] #1 : Gallery
  • Road from Imphal to Willong #2 : Gallery
  • COVID-19 vaccination @ Tamei : Gallery
  • Mirabai felicitated truck drivers: Gallery
  • Saikhom Mirabai @Imphal #3: Gallery
  • Saikhom Mirabai @Imphal #2: Gallery
  • HSLC 2021 Result: Statistics Abstract
  • HSLC 2021 Result: 1st Division
  • HSLC 2021 Result: 2nd Division
  • HSLC 2021 Result: 3rd Division
  • HSLC 2021 : Pass % : Govt Schools
  • HSLC 2021 : Pass % : Private Schools
  • HSLC 2021 : Pass % : Aided Schools
  • Saikhom Mirabai @ Kakching: Gallery
  • HSE 2021 Result: Statistics Abstract
  • HSE 2021 Result: Subject Pass Percentage
  • HSE 2021 Result: District-Wise Pass %
  • HSE 2021 Result: Science Stream
  • HSE 2021 Result: Arts Stream
  • HSE 2021 Result: Commerce Stream
  • Shanglakpam Nilakanta: Olympics #2: Gallery
  • Featured Front Page Photo 2021 #3: Gallery
  • Sushila Pukhrambam :: Olympics : Gallery
  • Saikhom Mirabai : Tokyo Olympics 2020
  • Pukhrambam Sushila : Tokyo Olympics Dream
  • Sushila Likmabam: Olympics Dream: Gallery
  • Lalginsei, Radamchui, Ngaworpei: eMing
  • Downloadable Manipuri Calendar :: 2021