Separatists in Manipur are literally holding the state to ransom with businesses, including pharmacies, closed during the weekend following huge extortion notices slapped by rebels.
Pharmacies across the state downed their shutters for two days until Sunday after a rebel group demanded Rs.10 million ($247,000) as 'tax' from the All Manipur Medical Representative Association and the All Manipur Pharmaceutical and Druggists Association.
The two associations have not named the separatist group for fear of reprisal.
"There is a lurking fear that the militants would target us to extract the extortion amount served on the drug dealers," a pharmacy owner in capital Imphal told IANS on condition of anonymity.
Some drugstores opened Monday although many are yet to resume business out of fear. The closure of pharmacies has led to panic across Manipur with doctors postponing major surgeries fearing shortage of lifesaving medicines.
"We do not have sufficient stocks of medicines and hence are putting on hold some of the major operations planned earlier," a doctor at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences here said.
Such is the fear that nobody would like to even talk about the extortions.
"People like us suffer a lot with the pharmacies closed," said Moni Singh, a 63-year-old retired government who is on constant medication for cancer.
The government is yet to formally react to the shutdown of drug stores. Health Secretary P. Vaiphei was quoted by the local media as saying that he came to know of the developments only through newspaper reports.
All shops at the Paona International Market, the main bazaar in Imphal, also remained closed following extortion demands over the weekend.
The Life Insurance Corp (LIC) has shut down its main office in Imphal since May 21 after a rebel group demanded Rs.100 million.
In recent weeks, offices of four more private insurance companies in Manipur have closed as well following similar demands.
"It is very likely the LIC might have to wind up its operations here if such threats persist," a senior official said.
Militants in Manipur have reduced the government and security agencies to mere spectators with their threats and extortion demands triggering panic.
Last year, the headquarters of the taxation department in Imphal was locked for weeks after rebel groups slapped huge extortion demands to the officials.