The ban on the import of green chillies from India has created a growing black market in Trashigang.

Last month a vegetable wholesale dealer in Trashigang was imposed a fine of Nu 90,000 for illegal possession of about 60kg of Indian green chillies at Nganglam check post.

He was imposed a fine of Nu 1,500 a kg.

Requesting anonymity, the wholesaler said that he had about 630kg of chillies during the checking. “I requested the officials to consider the mistake as the quantity was large and the fine would have been huge.”

He said while he knows it is illegal, he took the risk to compete and supply chilli in the market. “With customer demand for spicy chillies increasing, we have to keep the supply going.”

The wholesaler said that despite the availability of locally grown chillies, the demand for Indian green chillies has been increasing. “Our chillies are not as spicy as the Indian ones which is why they don’t sell much in the market,” he said.

He added that Indian chillies facilitate the sale of other vegetables like onion and tomatoes. “If there are no chillies, retailers and vendors do not buy other vegetables,” he said. “Dealers who take the risk and bring in the Indian chillies are able to sell other products better.”

He said that if the Indian chillies could be brought in after declaring tax like the tobacco products, it would help curb the growing black market. “So long there is a demand for the Indian chillies, there will be suppliers.”

With the price of local chillies dropping to almost Nu 100 a kg today, the Indian chillies are sold at about Nu 200 to Nu 250 a kilogram. The chillies cost Nu 20 to 25 in India.

Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) officials in Trashigang said people found in possession of the banned vegetable would be imposed a fine 10 times the current value of the locally grown vegetable.

“There is no consideration whatsoever on the illegal possession of the banned vegetables,” said a BAFRA official. “We conduct regular inspection and in the past, the office has slapped fines to those who were found in possession of banned chillies including hoteliers.”

However, the official said that with the availability of local chillies in the market today, the cases have reduced. The last fine imposed in Trashigang was some three months ago.

Younten Tshedup | Trashigang