The government should have introduced the quarantine tests only after putting in place its mechanism at the customs points
The government’s decision to roll back the quarantine tests of vegetables and fruits imported from India and other countries at the customs points has drawn flak from different walks of life, including the ruling party’s lawmakers and the opposition. Issuing a notice in the Nepal Gazette on June 17, the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies had told all the customs points to carry out quarantine or pesticide test of vegetables and fruits to be imported from India. Many Indian trucks loaded with vegetables and fruits were stuck at the customs points, waiting for the quarantine tests. The government had decided to impose a ban on the import of vegetables and fruits containing residues of pesticides and other toxic chemicals exceeding the permissible limits. However, a cabinet decision held on Thursday revoked the ministry’s earlier decision, giving continuity to the import of such vegetables and fruits, citing lack of equipment and adequate human resources at the customs points. There are only seven laboratories in the country where the contents of pesticides and toxic chemicals can be examined. They are inadequate to conduct the quarantine tests of all plants and animals before they get entry into the country.
Of the total vegetables and fruits that enter the Kathmandu Valley (around 800 tonnes daily), around 44 per cent of them are imported from India and some from China. But the government has not set up any state-of-the-art quarantine facilities at the customs points, where chemical tests can be conducted before they are allowed to enter the country. Domestic farmers had been demanding that chemical pesticide tests be conducted on the imported vegetables at the customs points, arguing that the imported vegetables and fruits contained chemicals and pesticides harmful to human health. There are many health hazards linked to the use of pesticides, which can have grave effects on the human health of anybody consuming such fruits or vegetables. High levels of pesticides in food can lead to the development of diseases such as cancer, kidney and lung ailments. The farmers who often use pesticides in their farms are more prone to suffer from such harmful pesticides and chemicals.
As per the WTO rules, countries have the right to impose a ban on importing vegetables and fruits containing excessive amounts of harmful toxic chemicals and pesticides used to control various diseases and pests when the plants start growing. As people are becoming more conscious about their health, they have started consuming organic vegetables. In this context, the government should also encourage our farmers not to use any pesticides or chemical fertiliser in vegetables and fruits and, if the need arises, they should be used judiciously and bring them to the market only after weeks of their use. While the government’s decision to conduct quarantine tests of vegetables at the customs points is praiseworthy, its abrupt decision to revoke it has raised public eyebrows. Such a decision should have been implemented only after putting the testing mechanism in place and deploying the necessary human resources at all the customs. Did the concerned ministry not know about the absence of such facilities at the customs points? It shows the government was totally ill-prepared to implement its decision.
Morang in east Nepal must be commended for being a literate district from Saturday. With this, 51 districts in Nepal have become fully literate. It has taken the district four years to make 97 per cent of its population literate. Morang is a populous district, and it must have taken some effort to make the people fully literate. Literacy, however, will hold little meaning if it is solely to be able to write one’s name. So from being able to identify the Nepali alphabets, adult education classes should be organised in the evenings so that they can read and write well over time. It will also give them an opportunity to discuss different issues affecting their society and country during these classes and enhance their knowledge.
On Saturday, Morang was also officially declared an open defecation free (ODF) district. But there are ODF districts that have lost the status because they were in a haste to declare them as such. A functioning latrine and water availability are interlinked, so the stakeholders must see to it that one doesn’t need to travel long distances to fetch a bucket of water.
A version of this article appears in print on July 08, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.