Aizawl: The Mizoram government on Thursday transferred Mizoram Civil Service (MCS) officer Maria CT Zuali, whose bold action in her capacity as Champhai district deputy commissioner against illicit trade of areca nuts from Myanmar has received a myriad of accolades as well as slanders from some quarters recently.

The development came a day after several transporter organisations and trade unions urged chief minister Zoramthanga to transfer the deputy commissioner from the border district.

A notification issued by the  department of personnel and administrative reforms on Thursday said the Champhai deputy commissioner has been transferred and posted as additional secretary in food, civil supplies and consumer affairs and planning and programme implementation departments with effect from January 17.

Maria will be replaced by current school and education director James Lalrinchhana, the notification said.

Along with Maria, eleven other MCS officers, including Kolasib deputy commissioner H. Lalthangliana, were transferred and posted in different posts.

Lalthangliana was transferred and posted in school education department to succeed James Lalrinchhana as the director.

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Earlier on Wednesday, at least seven transporter organisations and trade unions had written to chief minister Zoramthanga seeking his intervention to transfer Maria from Champhai district citing that the district magistrate’s pro-active action has disrupted their business.

Following the Centre and state home department order, Maria CT Zuali had recently issued an order banning smuggling or import of illegal trade items from Southeast Asian countries through Champhai district. 

In December, the district magistrate accompanied by some officials had intercepted four trucks loaded with smuggled areca nuts near Kelkang village in Champhai district near the Myanmar border and allegedly burned 150 bags of dried areca nuts.

Following the incident, an Aizawl-based areca nuts transporter Lalhruaitluangi had registered a complaint with state police against Maria CT Zuali. 

In her FIR, Lalhruaitluangi had alleged that the Champhai district magistrate along with other officials intercepted their trucks carrying areca nuts near Kelkang village on December 18.

The district officials unloaded 150 bags of areca nuts from three trucks and burnt on the spot, it had said.

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The District Magistrate had also allegedly snatched the drivers’ mobile phones and their ignition keys, it had said.

The FIR was filed at Champhai police station, which registered a case under sections 435 (Mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to cause damage), 427 (Mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees) and 341 (Wrongful restrain) of the IPC.

Sources said that probe against Maria is yet to be initiated. Maria, however, had said that she acted as per law. 

The complaint against the deputy commissioner had received a barrage of criticism from different quarters with opposition parties accusing the government of entertaining smugglers to have the courage to file complaint against the DC, who was maintaining law and order. 

Meanwhile, all NGOs in Champhai called an emergency meeting on Friday to discuss the proposed transfer of Maria. 

Zuali’s actions came in light of the ever-growing illegal areca nut trade in the region. Since the coup in Myanmar, this business has grown manifold, say locals.

Over the last few years, news from Mizoram regularly consists of reports of authorities confiscating betel nut shipments imported illegally from Myanmar. As of November 2021, Mizoram authorities had confiscated around 1,109 metric tons of betel smuggled from Myanmar, valued at around 5 million dollars.

Such has been the impact of this illegal trade that the central executive committee of Young Mizo Association announced in December 2021 that it had formed a committee to assess the state’s illegal cross-border trade, and “also urged all its leaders and members not to indulge in the smuggling of areca nuts from southeast Asian countries.”

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