Rupandehi DFO seizes huge herb cache

Butwal, October 17:

The Rupandehi district forest office seized 30,000 kg of an aromatic herb that was being smuggled from Tibet to India via Nepal. The seizure was made at the Bhairahawa customs office.

The consigment was loaded on two trucks with Indian number plates that came there 14 days ago.

The permit for export to India was issued by the Sindhupalchowk district forest office, and according to the documents, the consignment was mentioned as roots of Jethimadhu (an aromatic herb). The Bhairahawa customs office, however, smelt a rat and did not allow the consignment to proceed further. Officials at the checkpoint said they were not sure whether it was really Jethimadhu.

According to documents issued by the Sindhupalchowk DFO, the herb is Jethimadhu and it was bought in Tibet and brought to Tatopani by the Kathmandu-based Om Namabuddha Trade Link and sold to the Rupandehi-based Muktinath Betbaans and Chitra Factory.

The Rupandehi DFO said the consignment should have been registered at least seven to eight places while bringing it from Tatopani to Bhairahawa, adding that there was, however, had no record of such entries. The name of the officer of Sindhupalchowk who supposedly permitted the consignment to be exported was also illegible.

Assistant forest officer Prem Shankar Chaudhary said they seized the herb based on the suspicious documents and on a tip-off. He said their suspicion were roused as Jethimadhu has never been exported via Bhairahawa till now. Some unidentfied persons also kept making phone calls and offering bribes for allowing the herb consignment to proceed.

Meanwhile, the Rupandehi DFO has sent samples of the herb to the National Herbarium and Botany Laboratory for tests. The two trucks, each loaded with 15 tonnes of the aromatic herb, have been impounded on the customs office premises.

Forest officials said smugglers might have been trying to export the herb to India via Bhairahawa as the eastern route has been disrupted due to the damage to East-West Highway by the flood in Koshi River.

For want of assurance of the identity of the herb, officials have not been able to evaluate the price of the consignment. They added that could be worth millions of rupees.